Summer Programs Introduce Young Students to the World of Engineering

On July 16, 2014, visitors to Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey were transfixed by a “living” exhibit in the museum’s atrium.

The 88 student participants in this summer’s New Jersey Governor’s School of Engineering & Technology, or GSET, program at the Rutgers School of Engineering were creating portraits of Albert Einstein in the Liberty Science Center’s Rubik’s Cube Mosaic Competition—part of the Center’s Rubik’s Cube 40th anniversary special exhibit and celebration. The GSET students were divided into eight-student teams, with each student manipulating more than 25 Rubik’s Cubes. As crowds cheered them on, the eleven teams raced against the clock to fashion pixilated images of the great physicist from 225 cubes. 

This summer, GSET—a unique residential program for high-achieving New Jersey high school students heading into their senior year—was one of three SoE summer programs that bring the excitement of engineering to life for different constituencies of pre-college students.

The campus also hosted The Academy at Rutgers for Girls in Engineering & Technology, or TARGET, a program that introduces middle and high school girls to career opportunities in engineering, as well as a required five-week residential program for incoming first-year Educational Opportunity Fund, or EOF, students.

The Best and the Brightest

Since 2001, the GSET program has given talented students from all over New Jersey the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in engineering in a four-week, no-cost program. According to Jean Patrick Antoine, the School of Engineer’s assistant dean for the honors community, this summer, 88 students representing nearly 80 different high schools and nearly every county in the state lived on campus while taking part in the program.

While students take required core courses in robotics and modern physics, they also explore individual interests with a choice of electives in everything from bioengineering to android programming. They collaborate on team research projects that they present to hundreds of invited guests at a final symposium. This summer, they attended eight lectures by a diverse group of guest speakers that included former astronaut Terry Hart, JuiceTank CEO Mukesh Patel, and New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt.

Life skills workshops, site visits to local corporations, such as L’Oreal, Lockheed Martin, and Stryker, and events such as the Liberty Science Center’s Rubik’s Cube Mosaic Competition round out the program. “Students get to learn in a vigorous and rigorous environment beside other students who share a passion for STEM learning,” says Antoine.

The program is considered a success by any measure, with most GSET alumni choosing STEM majors in schools that include Rutgers SoE, Princeton, Cornell, and MIT.    

Girls Aspiring to Be Engineers

This year, a total of 143 girls in grades six through eleven took part in six different TARGET programs. Each weeklong session was dedicated to increasing awareness of engineering career opportunities for women. The young women took part in exciting hands on engineering activities ranging from Rube Goldberg to testing a circular sphere in a supersonic wind tunnel.

“I think one of the biggest benefits of TARGET is that these middle and high school students are mentored by our undergraduate and graduate female engineers,” says Candiece White, SoE assistant dean for women in engineering. “We want to encourage young women to consider engineering and empower them.” 

Now in its 17th year, TARGET has become a pathway for girls wishing to continue in engineering. Many girls return year after year and a number of the program’s alumnae go on to participate in GSET, study engineering at SoE or other engineering schools, or pursue another STEM discipline in college. 

“I hope that the program continues to impact the lives of girls that love science, math, and engineering, just like it has impacted mine,” said Katrina David, one of this year’s TARGET participants.

A Home-Away-From-Home

For 36 years, the EOF program at the School of Engineering has given financial and academic assistance to low-income New Jersey residents who show potential for academic achievement but who lack the resources for college. Each summer, incoming EOF freshmen are required to attend a five-week summer program that prepares them for their SoE careers.  

The EOF program pulls students from underserved populations into a rigorous summer program that gives them the tools to match the success of the general engineering population. Funded primarily by the state of New Jersey’s EOF office, the School of Engineering contributed supplemental funding this year to expand the program to include 16 additional students, for a total of 71 students—the largest EOF class in the School of Engineering’s history.

“It gives students a head start on the academic material required for the first year of college, but also introduces them to the personal and professional resources that will ensure their success over the next four years,” says Michael Brown, assistant dean for engineering education.

The summer EOF program is only the beginning for these students, as the EOF supports them up through graduation. “We work with them via one-on-one counseling, student development workshops, professional development activities, and formal classes to make sure they continue to excel,” says Brown.

The benefits of the on-campus School of Engineering summer programs extend well past the summer.  “All of our summer programs give people an understanding of what engineering is,” says Ilene Rosen, the School of Engineering’s associate dean of student development. “We are educating not only students but also their families and their teachers about the tremendously exciting possibilities of engineering.”