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Where you read it first | Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Darryll J. Pines, president of the University of Maryland, discusses STEM education program for high schoolers

The Science and Engineering Complex on the Medford/Somerville campus is pictured.

The Science and Engineering Complex is pictured.

Darryll Pines, president of the University of Maryland, spoke at Tufts on March 31 to discuss a new venture he started to address the decline in college enrollment and the  low level of STEM interest at the high school level. The presentation was held as part of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Colloquium Series.

To address high school students’ decreased interest in STEM, Pines launched Engineering For US All, a standardized, educational program that attracts students and teachers from all backgrounds by only requiring algebra as a prerequisite to take the course and having a hands-on curriculum.

“Our goal is truly for any high school student, whether they’re going into STEM or not, [to] learn engineering,” Pines said. “Dr. Don Millard at [the National Science Foundation], our program manager,  … believes that our goal is to democratize engineering for everyone, to make engineering a core subject in high school — like English, like history, like mathematics.”

The E4USA program is designed as a 30-week course aimed at leaving students with a deep understanding of the field of engineering and its impact, as well as how students can use these skills in their future careers.

“The [goal is for] students [to] learn about the field of engineering [and] teachers [to] have [the] confidence and … the requisite skills to teach engineering, even if they’ve never had engineering in their life,” Pines said.

There are eight units in four core domains that focus on introducing and applying engineering principles to everyday problems with courses such as Discover Engineering, Engineering Professional Skills, Engineering in Society and Engineering Design.

Program instructors are encouraged to be unaffiliated with engineering in order to encourage students to try something new and make the course seem less intimidating.

As part of the course, students find community partners that need a prototype built to solve a current issue they face. For example, students partnered with the IMAGE Center of Maryland and built a portable swing with safety features for a child with disabilities. Students at a different school created a feeder device for animals at the National Zoo that imitates their natural hunting process.

E4USA partners with several universities, 18 of which accept the course to fulfill credits and guide placement.

“We actually want students to get credit for high school and potentially credit for college because we want to get them on [an engineering] trajectory,” Pines said.

Five years after its inception, E4USA has had more than 6,000 students from 82 participating high schools across the country. The organization was also granted funding to collect data on the educational progress of its participants and instructors.

Surveys taken at the end of the course have shown overwhelming positive feedback from the students. More preliminary data shows that teachers have improved performance in their personal courses after instructing an E4USA program.

Pines has approached the project with a strong emphasis on demographic diversity within the participating student body. He has partnered with high schools across a variety of backgrounds and locations in order to promote diversity.

“[We wanted] to show that all demographic groups can learn this [material] and do well, and to make sure it [is] very inclusive for all population groups,” Pines said.

Since its creation, E4USA has been receiving funding from the NSF; however, NSF recently said that their funding would stop next year.

In response, Pines has decided to transition the program to a 501(c)(3) and raise money through fundraising. Going forward, E4USA will focus its efforts on scaling the program in Maryland, where they have already received funding from the state legislature.

They plan to expand from their current partnership with 18 high schools in the state to include all 282 Maryland high schools, growing at a pace of 50 schools per year before spreading to nearby states.

Pines said that E4USA is talking about how programs in other states can follow the same path as Maryland through their own state-wide foundations.

The program will also spread internationally. In a meeting last week with Ghana’s Minister of Education, Yaw Osei Adutwum,Pines said he discussed implementing E4USA in 12 high schools there in order to grow their STEM capacity. Training for the Ghanaian instructors has already been scheduled for this summer.

“My goal is to make sure that every high school student can learn the principles of engineering,” Pines said.

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