Building a new generation of engineers drawn from educationally underserved communities

A growing program in Chicago that builds interest in science and technology among African American and Latino seeks to duplicate the success of a mature pre-college math and science curriculum in Detroit. One engineer’s vision got both off the ground.

09/09/2013


Now that Labor Day is past and school is back in session, another program will be starting again in Chicago that seeks to draw children from educationally underserved communities into a learning track that will result in a new generation of engineers.

This program is the Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering Program, or ChiS&E. It began in early 2008, appropriately enough, with kindergartners, as “Little Civil Engineers.” With each new school year, those kids moved to the next level. With the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, those kindergartners are now fifth-graders and the program goes on building each year. The kids in this program are 60% African American and 40% Latino and come from communities that aren’t exactly known for strong educational opportunities.

Jason Lee is executive director of DAPCEP.The idea of creating an extracurricular program on Saturdays and summers to learn the basics of math and science is largely the brainchild of Kenneth Hill and reflects the program he helped launch in Detroit almost 40 years ago. DAPCEP (Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program) is now a thriving organization (watch the video above) that sends dozens of well-prepared new engineering students to University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University and other partner schools every year.

Hill started his career working for a pipeline company in Detroit, but soon realized his calling was teaching. It didn’t take long for him to recognize that students coming out of public schools at the time were utterly unprepared for the kind of math that a college engineering curriculum demands. When the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation launched a national effort to increase the number of minorities in engineering, Hill saw the opportunity and DAPCEP was born.

Recreating that success in Chicago will take many years, but Hill is convinced that trying to bring in older students and start them mid-program isn’t nearly as effective. “It is based on the belief that the earlier you introduce concepts of math, science, and technology to young people, the greater the likelihood they will develop an interest and desire to pursue those disciplines as career options,” he says. “I also believe that the most successful model for learning is triangular—student, teacher, and parent. Thus, our program also educates parents so that they can be successful partners with teachers in the education of their children.”

These programs deserve the support of the larger engineering community, if for no other reason than they help ensure the next generation of our professions. The fact that they draw from underserved communities is one additional benefit that should not be ignored. The respective websites offer ways to contact the organizations, and they would like to hear from you.

--Peter Welander, pwelander@cfemedia.com



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