Colorado State University’s new one-of-a-kind engineering education bachelor’s degree trains engineers to be junior high and high school engineering and technology teachers in an effort to improve the nation’s technological literacy and its global competitiveness.
The program, which is co-sponsored by Colorado State’s College of Engineering and the School of Education in the College of Applied Human Sciences, requires students to earn an engineering bachelor’s degree with a concentration in engineering education before they can obtain their nationally accredited technology education teaching license.
An engineering degree provides an all-around understanding of math, science and technology for teaching engineering, but it also adds design to the mix, which encourages critical and creative thinking to solve problems, said Michael de Miranda, engineering education professor based in the School of Education.
Colorado State is already a leader in teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM, disciplines, which yield higher-quality, higher-income jobs that return significant benefit to the state. Colorado State provides 30 percent of all credit hours taken in these disciplines statewide – more than any other university in the state.
Still, studies show a decrease in enrollment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics degree programs, particularly among women and minorities.
"One of the great obstacles to bringing more engineering into the K-12 classroom has always been the dearth of teachers with the expertise to actually teach the subject – and yet engineering is one of the best ways to teach students about the highly designed and technology-saturated world that they live in and will work in after leaving school," said Eric Iversen, manager for Outreach at the American Society for Engineering Education. "A program like this one, connecting the natural enthusiasms of engineers to the increasing number of opportunities to teach the subject in the K-12 classroom, will play a fundamental role in helping us meet the citizenship and workforce requirements that a globalizing, highly competitive, rapidly changing world creates."
"We are losing ground to other countries that are doing a better job of educating engineers," said Tom Siller, associate dean for academic and student affairs in the College of Engineering who created the program with de Miranda. "People need technical literacy that is broader and deeper. We want teachers of technology in the K-12 system – where they’ve received teacher education but they also have a strong engineering background."
Ordinary citizens need to understand technology to make responsible decisions every day whether that’s how to buy genetically engineered food or how to use the Internet, according to "Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More About Technology," the report of the Committee on Technological Literacy driven by the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council.
"If you want to teach integrated science and math and technology, you have to have someone who knows the engineering science and engineering design principles to make it all come alive in the classroom. Have you ever heard kids say, ‘When are we ever going to use this?’ The engineering and technology teacher challenges students to use math and science to predict, analyze and model problem solutions," de Miranda said. "In this ever-changing technological environment, the new challenge for kids is to be able to use their math and science to solve problems and innovate."
The degree is ideal for Kate McDonnell who got all the way through her bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and decided she didn’t want to go into the field. She wanted to teach.
At Colorado State University, that transition was easy: McDonnell moved right into the new engineering education program as its first licensure student.
She’ll obtain her teaching certificate in May after spending the spring semester student teaching under the tutelage of John Thayer, technology teacher at Fossil Ridge High School, which offers several pre-engineering courses. So far, McDonnell has worked with Thayer and his students to design an 8-foot catapult and an electric car.
"This is a pre-engineering lab where every field of engineering is represented," said Thayer. "Kate’s background in education is definitely a plus – she understands practice in the field."
"I love it. The things I’ve been learning are very cool," said McDonnell, who is also obtaining her master’s in education, which she expects to finish in 2008. "I’m learning how to teach lessons, where to get all my materials and how to interact with students. I really like the engineering design process – that’s what’s missing in STEM education."
When McDonnell graduates, she’ll be head-and-shoulders above counterparts around the country who have technology education degrees that don’t include strong science, mathematics and engineering training, de Miranda said.
"Think what influence she’ll have on those young girls who don’t have many role models," he said. "Boys have a lot more role models in this field. We’re excited about the program, that we’re attracting students like Kate."
For more information about the program, go to http://www.mycahs.colostate.edu/Michael.DeMiranda/engineeringed.htm.