Ready, GSET, Go!

Governor’s School of Engineering & Technology goes remote

Since it was established in 2001, the New Jersey Governor’s School of Engineering & Technology (GSET) has offered a highly regarded, four-week intensive summer program to talented rising high school seniors from across New Jersey. In years past, students have lived and studied on the Rutgers School of Engineering campus, taking academic courses, collaborating on research projects, attending life skills workshops, and visiting local corporations to learn about career opportunities.  

This summer, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the program had to quickly transition to offer an equally robust online program to its 72 students from 65 different New Jersey high schools. 

“We were fortunate,” says Jean Patrick Antoine, GSET director and assistant dean for the School of Engineering Honors Community, who had lined up a head counselor, instructors, and project mentors by the beginning of 2020. “They all had it in mind that the program would be onsite, but were able to pivot quickly once they learned that the program would be online.” 

The students took four courses ranging from robotics and physics to a book discussion with Antoine. “We chose The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, which talks about the philosophies leaders have used during difficult times and because as engineers we can find ourselves faced with challenges in the midst of research and experimentation.”

Instead of hosting onsite visits, companies such as PSEG and Bristol-Myers Squibb gave online presentations to the students. “A blessing in disguise was being able to leverage GSET alumni as keynote speakers,” Antoine notes. GSET also ran a Q&A session to help prepare students for college.  

Students partnered in a variety of research projects, a number of which were computational and related to software engineering, which morphed easily to a remote learning format. “More hands-on projects were a little more challenging, and required the mentor to do the experiment so students could see it and then analyze it,” Antoine explains. 

Other projects were design oriented and even COVID-19 related. “We had students design and simulate a COVID-19 air purifier. You could see their enthusiasm – a eureka moment –and how excited they were to make the project come to fruition,” recalls Antoine. Another team developed a COVID-19 copper infused mask. 

The program also led a COVID-19 hackathon, giving students a limited amount of time to come up with a solution to a problem in the pandemic environment. “It was really great, as students were able to successfully engage with and present to one another remotely,” Antoine says.

Students presented their projects at a final well-received and attended online symposium. “As they say, a picture speaks a thousand words,” says Antoine. “You could see the pride on our students’ faces.”

Program feedback to date has also been positive. “Thank you for offering this program this summer,” wrote Elin Cherry, whose daughter Hannah took part in GSET.  “Each day I saw her excited to get up and get going.  I haven’t seen her this happy and engaged in a long time.  I appreciate that she was part of the program and appreciate all that you and everyone else did to make this happen.  I was amazed that an on-line course could be so interactive and engaging.” 

Joanne Calabria Barkauskas, a counselor at Parsippany Hills High School has long encouraged students to apply for GSET. But this summer, when her own son took part, she was even more impressed as the program was able to give him – and his fellow students – an experience certain to “spur them onto greater moments of learning and academic success. His excitement, enthusiasm and determination in his own learning is far greater because of his experiences at the Governor’s School and the support and encouragement of his mentors,” she says.

Antoine attributes a large part of the program’s online success to the responsiveness of staff and instructors. “We were able to adapt when we knew something wasn’t quite working or if there was a void,” he reports. “In the past, I’d have meetings at the beginning and end of the program, but this summer, I scheduled weekly meetings with instructors and project mentors to discuss how things were going. We were able to identify problems, pivot quickly, and make changes within a day.”

Antoine loves what he does. “I am delighted to see all of the support for the GSET program as we strive to improve it every summer,” he says. “At our closing staff meeting, we reviewed lessons learned, things to do earlier rather than later, and things we need to refine. All of this will make next summer an even better experience, whether onsite or online.”

CLICK HERE for the recorded final symposium.

CLICK HERE for student research papers.