Inventing a way to fix a problem 2023

According to some published projections, the United States might face a deficit of almost 6 million engineers by 2024. Many factors contribute to the shortfall, but New Jersey educators are attempting to close the gap.

Alberto Cuitio, interim dean of the Rutgers University School of Engineering, stated, “There has been a shortage of engineering students for some years, but recent developments have made it an even more pressing issue.” The rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure [such as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was passed into law in 2021]. As a society, we simply do not graduate enough engineers to fulfill demand.”

He noted that engineering is a “great, high-impact profession that pays well and offers a gratifying experience.” Yet, engineering is a difficult field of study.

To attract more individuals to the subject, Cuitio believes that instructors must begin early. Because K-12 is where young men and women begin to make professional selections, it is imperative that we instill passion in these grades.

Through the Rutgers University Shaping a New Generation of Engineers program, the School of Engineering is collaborating with a middle school in Rahway. According to an SoE statement, the program is “committed to enabling rising 7th and 8th-grade Black male kids – the next generation of technology pioneers – to find engineering by providing them with access to workshops, educational materials, and community.”

Other Rutgers SoE engineering education programs and initiatives geared towards pre-college students include TARGET (The Academy at Rutgers for Girls in Engineering and Technology), a summer program designed for middle school and high school students; the New Jersey Governor’s School of Engineering and Technology, a residential summer program that brings together high school students; and an annual research fair for high school students, held at Rutgers University and titled the High School Engineering Research Competition.

Institutions like the New Jersey Institute of Technology are increasing their outreach efforts in response to the rising demand for students and the dwindling supply. “Half of Americans surveyed by Pew Research in 2018 stated that the primary reason young people don’t pursue STEM is that they believe these disciplines are too difficult,” NJIT President Teik Lim said. “Combining this view with a significant increase in the demand for STEM personnel generates a shortage. There might be many additional explanations for this view, but the increased demand is undeniable.”

He said that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects an 11% increase in scientific, technology, engineering, and mathematics occupations by 2031 compared to a 5% increase in non-STEM employment. Industry and academics must provide STEM workers with a comprehensive range of opportunities, and NJIT is working hard to achieve this.

Lim said that the institute offers “extensive pre-college engineering programs beginning as early as seventh grade.” “Showing the benefits of a STEM education at an early age encourages students to pursue an education and, ultimately, a career in a STEM sector. Also, NJIT collaborates with statewide groups such as the New Jersey Science Olympiad.”

This endeavor, coupled with programs such as NJIT’s Makerspace, “allows kids to see the incredible resources accessible to future engineering students,” he explained.

Lim said that several of NJIT’s other resources, like Makerspace, are readily accessible to undergraduates. Makerspace is a dedicated area with access to a variety of cutting-edge tools for design, prototyping, testing, and research. “Students have the chance to do practical research, and offering these facilities early in their academic careers assists them in discovering and cultivating their future interests. We must also ensure the success of the students we recruit in engineering and other STEM fields. Our Newark Math Success Project, Forensic Science Initiative, and Upward Bound and Educational Opportunity Programs serve a crucial role in recruiting kids and equipping them with a solid basis for future success.”

He said that the Newark College of Engineering at NJIT collaborates with the institution’s Center for Pre-College Programs to provide STEM contests for primary school students. Undergraduates from our STEMentors Club assist in preparing primary school children for this event. In 2021, 75 students in grades three through five from over ten school districts participated in our inaugural tournament.

Offer and demand

A representative of the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken agrees that contacting kids at an early age is necessary for finding answers.

He noted that activities that introduce pupils to Science and engineering should not be limited to the classroom. “They need not be limited to official educational settings,” Fischer said. “They might include extracurricular activities, after-school programs, and programming given by local museums and libraries.”

It is crucial to promote engineering to younger pupils, he stressed. There are fascinating and lucrative employment options available in this industry.

Stevens offers a variety of initiatives aimed to expose and promote engineering to K-12 children. “We are especially interested in chances to improve the number of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering,” he noted. “An excellent illustration is the Art Harper Saturday Academy. National Science Foundation-sponsored programs have also supported, for instance, doctorate students teaching in high school classes.”

Fischer found that New Jersey supports a K-12 pipeline for engineering students “very effectively” compared to other states. But, these efforts must be broadened such that engineering exposure becomes the norm for the majority of K-12 students.

Increasing engagement with engineering students

President Teik Lim of the New Jersey Institute of Technology states that minority recruiting is a priority. “I am especially proud of the fact that 62% of the Black and Hispanic engineers produced by New Jersey’s public colleges are NJIT alumni,” he said. “We are the only public polytechnic institution in New Jersey, and we are among the nation’s top 20 producers of Black and Hispanic engineers. And we are extremely deliberate in our efforts to recruit underrepresented and diverse students to STEM majors at NJIT. This past autumn, the entering first-year class hit multiple records: underrepresented minorities comprised a record 42% of students; Black and Hispanic students have more than doubled since 2012; and this, the largest first-year class ever, includes a record number of female students at 31%.

Lim is happy with the projects, but he emphasized that STEM education incurs additional expenditures, and he would want to see the government pay up a portion of the bill. “Studies by the Center for STEM Education and Innovation and the National Bureau of Economic Research have proven the greater expenses involved with offering STEM programs,” he stated, “, especially in the engineering, architecture, computer, and physical and biological sciences.”

According to Lim, the NBER study indicated that the expenses of offering engineering programs are more than twice as expensive as those of offering degrees in English, history, psychology, and economics. The Center for Science Education and Innovation estimated that engineering degrees are 60% more expensive than the typical degree program to offer. Government investment, such as the newly announced $1.3 million for engineering and manufacturing activities at NJIT, is essential for developing and expanding the engineering workforce in the state.