Mindful of the waning national interest in the engineering
professions — at a time when the need has never been
greater, and technology is becoming more difficult to
comprehend — the
Whiting School this summer will roll out a unique
pre-college program aimed at demystifying technology and
showing off its creative character.
The Engineering Innovation program, which Hopkins will
initially offer at three JHU campuses and five California
universities, will allow high school sophomores, juniors
and seniors to enroll in the college-level course What is
Engineering? taught by Johns Hopkins or other
The initiative is based upon a successful program the
Whiting School developed five years ago for students in
Montgomery County. The program was expanded last year to
include students in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
Engineering Innovation seeks to capture the imaginations of
young students and introduce them to a wealth of academic
and career opportunities in the worlds of science,
technology, engineering and mathematics.
Marc Donohue, associate dean for research at the School of
Engineering and director of the school's Center for
Educational Outreach, said that the program is aimed at
giving young students a better general understanding of
engineering principles and technology.
Technology, he said, is not as transparent as it once was,
when you could take something apart and figure out how it
works — a traditional telephone vs. a cell phone, for
"Technology has advanced in such a way that it is not
understandable to the common person, even those with
advanced degrees," Donohue said. "Science and mathematics
have become relatively divorced from everyday life, and too
few people understand how things work anymore. The days of
the 'shade tree mechanic,' when you could open up the hood
and figure out what's wrong, are gone."
The participants in the program will spend four weeks
learning the basics of engineering as they conduct hands-on
laboratory experiments and complete assignments that range
from building a better mousetrap to assembling a digital
circuit that operates a robot.
The What is Engineering? course was designed for Johns
Hopkins undergraduates by Michael Karweit, a professor of
chemical and biomolecular engineering at the Whiting
School, who will teach a section in the program. Students
who complete the course will earn three undergraduate
credits that can be applied to Johns Hopkins or perhaps
another college or university.
Leigh Abts, deputy director of the School of Engineering's
Center for Educational Outreach and coordinator of
Engineering Innovation, said that the program is intended
to introduce high school students to the field of
engineering and also give them a leg up on their college
"Most kids have heard about engineering as a career but
don't really know what the field is all about," Abts said.
"When you ask young students what they think engineering
means, they'll often tell you, building bridges. They don't
know just how multidisciplinary the field is and how
creative and rewarding it can be. We're trying to generate
interest in the field by letting them have some fun with
To date, nearly 180 students have applied to the program,
which is still accepting applications. Almost 80 percent of
the applications have come from minorities, primarily from
inner-city high schools. The target enrollment is 200, with
18 students per class.
Abts said that the declining number of engineering majors
nationally has created a cause for concern among those in
higher education, and that officials at the School of
Engineering realized something needed to be done before the
well of prospective engineers runs any drier.
"The actual number of engineers in this country has
steadily been going down. And baby boomers like me will be
retiring in the near future, and we expect a major decline
in the next decade in the field of engineering," Abts said.
It's been estimated that half of all working engineers will
retire in the next 10 years. "We're trying to address the
need by focusing on underrepresented groups, women and
minorities and show them just how fun, viable and
high-paying a career in engineering can be," he said.
This summer, courses will be offered at Johns Hopkins'
Homewood, Montgomery County and Washington campuses. In
addition, the program will be offered at the University of
the Pacific; University of California, Santa Barbara; and
California State University campuses at Fullerton, Long
Beach and Channel Islands.
The California schools are all participants in the
Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement program, known
as MESA, which will help fund Engineering Innovation, along
with a grant from the National Science Foundation and funds
from T. Rowe Price, Bechtel Corp., the Baltimore
Polytechnic Institute Foundation and various engineering
societies and private donors.
Tuition and lab fees for the four-week nonresidential
program are $1,700, and scholarships are available.
Abts said that the School of Engineering will expand the
program next summer to offer a sequential three-course
program for students in the 8th through 12th grades. The
curriculum will include the Way Things Work, for 8th-grade
students; the Evolution of Technology, for 9th-and
10th-grade students; and What is Engineering? for 11thand
12th-graders. Students also will be able to take advanced
courses such as Introduction to Electrical and Computer
Engineering and Thermal Design for Aerospace
Most students, Abts said, will enroll in one course per
The expectations are for the program to annually enroll
5,000 students nationwide in the next five years, and for
courses to be offered at more locations and in more states.
The 10-year goal is 20,000 students annually learning at
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