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NSF funds NJIT's participation in program to retain engineering students

The Newark College of Engineering (NCE) at NJIT has been selected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to participate as one of 20 universities and colleges across the nation in a new five-year program to keep students enrolled in engineering programs. This selection is the culmination of a two-year long effort led by NCE Dean Sunil Saigal and Associate Dean Lisa Axe.

Currently, some 43 percent of engineering undergraduates switch to other majors. The ENGAGE program (Engaging Students in Engineering) has awarded NJIT a grant valued at $100,000 which includes NJIT matching funds.

The program is based on the successful Cooperative Extension Service model at state land-grant institutions. It will provide resources and expertise to engineering schools, enabling them to create successful academic and social environments.

"In higher education circles, many people talk about the need in the U.S. for well-trained engineers, if the nation is to remain an innovation leader in fields ranging from energy to nanotechnology," said Priscilla P. Nelson, professor in the department of civil engineering and ENGAGE project lead at NJIT. "Although the number of engineering jobs here is expected to grow by 11 percent in the decade spanning 2008 to 2018, what most people don't realize is that the nation's colleges won't be able to keep pace with that demand unless something radically changes in the way engineers are educated."

Susan Metz, ENGAGE's principal investigator, said that the program advocates and teachers should use three proven and time-honored research-based strategies in the first two years of schooling. This is the key period in which engineering students are most at risk to change majors. The strategies are improving and increasing interaction between faculty and students; illustrating engineering concepts in courses by using everyday familiar objects; and improving students' spatial visualization skills.

"Although these strategies may sound obvious, the research supporting their implementation has been sitting on the shelves for years," said Metz.

At NJIT the project is supported by NCE Dean Saigal and Fadi Deek, Dean of the College of Science and Liberal Arts. Nelson's team includes three experienced and key teachers: David Lubliner, PhD, and university lecturer, department of engineering technology; Ravi Ravindra, PhD, chair and professor, department of physics; and Denis Blackmore, PhD, professor, department of mathematical sciences. Supported by ENGAGE professional development workshops, expertise and resources, the team will design a unique plan to implement the three strategies at NJIT.

"One aspect of our efforts will be to harness the tremendous power and influence faculty exert in making a critical difference in the undergraduate experience of our students," said Saigal. Nelson will lead an effort working with faculty to improve student-faculty interaction through various methods of communication that take some thought, but very little time. "The effort is win-win. Research indicates that course evaluations are better if a professor is perceived as approachable," adds Nelson.

NJIT is one of 20 initial participating colleges. By year four, a total of 30 colleges and universities will participate.

Trail blazers with NJIT include Arizona State University; California State University, Fullerton; Kettering University; Louisiana Tech University; North Carolina State University; Ohio State University; Purdue University; Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; Santa Clara University; Stevens Institute of Technology; University of Colorado at Boulder; University of Dayton; University of Illinois at Chicago; University of Louisville; University of Maryland; University of New Mexico; University of South Carolina; University of Texas at Austin; Virginia Tech.


Contact: Sheryl Weinstein
New Jersey Institute of Technology

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