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Scientists, engineers must reach out to engage student interest

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Right now, we are experiencing a national crisis that requires immediate attention. Many of us don't see it, but it is real and already beginning to affect the lives of all of us. We are facing a dire shortage of engineers and scientists.

As I like to tell the students I visit in classrooms, the world is becoming more technical by the day, and those who are trained in technical fields will be in great demand.

Further, we are not exploiting a tremendous resource of potential students in these fields: women and minorities.

Enrollment at universities in technical fields has declined steadily over the last decade or two. While women and minorities historically have not made up a large segment of the student population in these fields, the disparity is much greater now than ever before.

I've discussed the problem with numerous experts in the field of education, trying to figure out how to turn the tide on this disaster. It seems that, while many students show an interest in mathematics and science in elementary and middle school, their interest declines in high school because these subjects are not particularly "cool." This is especially true for young women. Also, I've found that most students at all levels are acutely unaware of what opportunities exist in technical fields.

So how do we address the crisis? Outreach. Since those of us in the technical industries have the greatest need for qualified employees, it is incumbent on us to get into the classrooms and generate some excitement. Students need to know what they need to do to prepare themselves for a rewarding career in the sciences and engineering. Classroom demonstrations can ignite the students' imagination, leading to greater interest and possibly getting them hooked on science.

There are numerous local and national programs available to get engineers and scientists into the classroom. Geocon is involved in one called Project Lead the Way, a nationwide program consisting of highly developed curricula at the middle school and high school levels that introduce students to principles of engineering design.

San Diego State University is the statewide administrator of the program, and has enlisted the help of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. (EDC) to recruit engineers and scientists to enter the classroom specifically for the purpose of generating excitement about technical careers.

From my personal experience, nothing is as effective as personal interaction of scientists and engineers with the students to generate interest. The EDC will be needing volunteers in coming semesters to make a commitment of one hour a week for five weeks to go into the classrooms and fire up the next generation of our technical wizards.

Get involved by contacting me or the EDC regarding how you can help resolve this crisis. By the way, it's fun!

Submitted by Mike Chapin, president of Geocon Inc.

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