How do you sell an Engineering major?


The progress in setting up the 3+2 engineering agreement is moving along, slowly. There are lots of variables, lots of constraints, and lots of emails and phone calls that have to come into and out of my office to try and come up with a plan that will actually result in a degree from my college and an engineering degree from the big partner university, in five years. The goal is to have a 5-year plan in a final draft form, with the blessing of the big university on everything, by the end of August so that we can start planning and recruiting the moment school starts back.

Hmm… recruiting. Right. Programs don’t actually function without students enrolled in them. So…how’s that going to work?

I’m concerned that I’m going to spend hundreds of hours on this only to have nobody interested in the program when it’s done. (Or else students who are interested but not really capable — the students who want to get into engineering because they hear there’s big money in it, or because their parents are pressuring them, or because they always liked trains.) I have this concern because (1) the majority of students I’ve worked with anywhere are scaredout of their minds about math and science courses at all, even the science for poets classes, and (2) the coursework for a dual-degree program in engineering — full of courses like “Principles of Electromechanical Energy Conversion” — is not exactly reassuring for such people.

So while most of my energy right now is being focused on credit substitution agreements and what changes I can reasonably suggest to our degree program to make it fit better with the big university, and so on, in the back of my mind I am wondering: How am I gonna get people to sign on to this?

Well, dammit Jim, I’m a mathematician, not a marketing agent. However, I do apprehend — maybe falsely — the idea that it takes a certain, unusual kind of person to be attracted to a program like this. And that person is, like me, basically a geek. Only people who are geeks at heart are going to “get” the idea of an engineering degree. I knew people while an undergrad at Tennessee’s major technical university who were not geeks at heart but were engineering majors; they suffered through (well, most some a few of them did) but they didn’t get it. The only really effective recruiting for this program will be where geek is speaking unto geek.

And I have vague notions of how that happens. Technology is the medium through which kids interested in, and capable of, an engineering degree express themselves. This is not some evidence-free ed-school platitude about “digital natives” — this is a cold hard fact about engineers, past present and future. So technology will be how I recruit.

How, you ask? Well, heck if I know at this point. I’m still trying to figure out stuff like whether our Differential Equations class taught in the math department will satisfy their DE class taught in the engineering department — in other words, whether this program is even possible at all. I have vague plans for setting up a subdomain on our college’s web site; a big collection of del.icio.us links; starting up an engineering program blog. Show students that we are serious, and skilled, in technology, and therefore we know something of what we are talking about when it comes to preparing them to be engineers.

We’ll see if it works.

8 Comments

Filed under Engineering, Geekhood, Higher ed, Life in academia

8 responses to “How do you sell an Engineering major?

  1. Also consider stealing things that work; figure out what successful programs are doing to attract students. When I taught at a SLAC, one of my best students was in a program somewhat similar to the one you describe. Had there not been the partnership, he never would have matriculated at the small school.

    If you can get the admissions and PR people involved, they can help publicize the program. They have direct connections to the high schools (and the parents) and can get word out to the students that you’d like to attract.

    Once the studetns know that you exist, then you can win them over with your tech skilz.

  2. In business schools, departments stand and fall by their placement. A department that doesn’t place its graduates in jobs dies, because no sane student would do their major. Have you looked at talking to employers about placement?

  3. RH – Yeah, I have no illusions of being a l33t haxxor or anything, nor do I have the time to do al this stuff myself. A large part of effective recruiting is going to have to do with how well the admissions counselors know their stuff. Much brainwashing training will need to take place.

    RWP – Haven’t thought about that. I think I’ll ask the big university what their placement stats are like, because after all the students will be getting the engineering degree from them, not us.

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  5. I wonder how folks who aren’t afraid of math and science, your self-described geeks, would hear about the blog. Is it the kind of thing that would show up if you put “small school engineering” in your search engine? (And I hope yall’s search engine is better than ours. Ours can’t find teacher names, much less anything useful.)

    I ask because I have a math and science wiz, a self-described geek, who is going to a small school. He’s presently planning to be an actuary because his math tutor says it’s a good job with good pay for folks who like math. (He’s really concerned about that good pay part.)

    He doesn’t really yet get the whole college thing. I’ve discussed it with him. He’s seen the catalog. He’s seen courses.

    He wants to take math and physics. Can’t he skip everything else? (No.)

    But I’m not sure how HE would hear about such an engineering degree possibility. Maybe in calculus class? Or physics class? But both of those are sophomore level courses. Is that too late for this degree plan?

    Just throwing in my two cents’ worth.

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