Engineering for us all

University of Maryland President Dr. Darryll Pines delivers the most recent Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice colloquium at Tufts School of Engineering.
University of Maryland president Dr. Darryll Pines delivering a Tufts School of Engineering DEIJ colloquium.

Academic and extracurricular experiences in middle and high school often inform a student’s choices of what to study in college and by extension, what career path to follow. To that end, President of the University of Maryland Dr. Darryll Pines opened his recent Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice colloquium presentation at Tufts University by asking how many people in the audience took an engineering course in high school. The answer? Hardly anyone.

As the societal need for STEM careers increases, the decreasing birth rate in the US means fewer students are going to college overall, and fewer students are pursuing engineering. Pines hopes to close this gap with the Engineering for US All initiative (E4USA). The program shifts the paradigm of engineering education; rather than students learning math out of context and later applying it to engineering, E4USA starts by getting students excited about engineering with real-world design projects in their communities.

Funded by a multi-million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, Pines leads the E4USA initiative, which seeks to introduce engineering curriculum to students at the high school level and provide professional development opportunities for secondary educators. Students can receive college credit for their participation in the E4USA course and teachers who complete the professional development receive continuing education credits.

The design-based course incorporates hands-on projects into the curriculum, giving students concrete experience with engineering before they decide whether they want to pursue it at the college level. E4USA leans into a community-centered approach and works with local partners to put a human face to engineering design projects. Past projects include an accessible swing for a disabled child in the community, and hands-free leash for a person with a service dog. “There is a social connectivity to the fabric of engineering. This is what gets students excited because they get to help a real person,” says Pines. Projects helping animals are also popular; one group collaborated with a local zoo to develop a giraffe feeding device.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are core tenants of the initiative, and the program seeks to encourage the participation of students from all backgrounds. E4USA intentionally sought partners from a range of high schools in urban, rural, and suburban environments including two all-girls high schools. The program puts an emphasis on inclusion – the only prerequisite for the course is algebra, making it accessible to students of all grade levels regardless of their math level.

The program has seen success so far, with roughly 6,000 students served and 82 partner high schools participating in states across the US, including Washington, D.C., and the US Virgin Islands. The initiative also collects and tracks data to monitor their success, and has found that many students who participate in E4USA continue on to study engineering in college. In the coming years the program will continue to expand to high schools across the United States, US territories, and internationally.

In addition to his role as President of the University of Maryland, Pines is also the Glen L. Martin Professor of Aerospace Engineering. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and Institute of Physics. He chairs the Engineering Advisory Committee for NSF’s Engineering Directorate and sits on the Board of Trustees for Underwriters Laboratory, the not-for-profit arm.

The Tufts School of Engineering Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice colloquium series gives voice to diverse perspectives in engineering. Pines advocates for a unique approach to engineering education. “You don’t need to have the same structure; you can do it a different way,” he says. The E4USA program enacts this unique approach and aims to get students excited about engineering from the high school level. “When you make the problem socially relevant to them and connect them to a community partner, engineering is fun,” says Pines.