Group To Enlist 100,000 Engineers
A group of national engineering associations last week made public plans to enlist 100,000 engineers to work on a regular, volunteer basis with science and mathematics teachers in every school in the country.
The ambitious endeavor is being undertaken by a task force made up of representatives from 26 professional engineering associations. Coordinators of the effort said they were hoping to place their volun0 teers in the schools sometime next year. "What the engineer brings to the table is a splendid working knowledge of science and mathematics and how they work in everyday life," said Mitchell Bradley, executive director of the American Association of Engineering Societies, an umbrella group that is administering the project. "And somehow or other, he or she should be able to assist the teacher."
"We are not going to promote engineering," he added. "What we are trying to do is improve the climate for math and science education in the schools."
Mr. Bradley said the organizaL ions participating in the task force can draw their volunteers from a combined pool of nearly 1 million members, or roughly half of all engineers in the United States. Most of those organizations also have local chapters throughout the country.
"I'm not really looking for a guy who comes in two days a year to talk about engineering," Mr. Bradley said. "I'm looking for a guy whose company is willing to give him a half a day a week to work in the schools."
But Mr. Bradley said task-force members were still unclear about the precise role the volunteers would play in classrooms. While the effort has been described by others as a "mentor" program, Mr. Bradley said the volunteers might take on any number of tasks.
"At this point in time, we'll do anything from taking over the class for a half a day while the math teacher goes to a seminar to buying a telephone for the science teacher," he said.
"Whatever we do, we believe we should approach the schools with great humility," he said, noting that this effort is the first foray into pre collegiate education for the associ ations involved.
Mr. Bradley said task-force mem bers have already begun discussing the venture with a number of educa tion groups, including both major national principals' organizations and associations representing science and mathematics teachers. All of the groups have so far welcomed the assistance, according to Mr. Bradley.
"We certainly are endorsing it," said Charles E.M. Kolb, deputy spe cial assistant to President Bush and deputy director of domestic policy for the White House.
'Make Us Proud'
Mr. Kolb announced the engineer ing groups' venture during a national meeting in Arlington, Va., last week of recipients of grants from the Dwight D. Eisenhower Mathematics and Science Education Program, a federal grant program supporting professional-development activities for teachers in those subjects. (See re lated story, this page.)
"Having 100,000 volunteers working in every elementary and secondary school in the country is certainly something that can make us all proud," he said.
Such efforts, Mr. Kolb added, could also play a role in attaining the goals set by President Bush and the nation's governors for matheL matics and science education. The targets call for American children to rank first in the world in achieve ment in those subjects by 2000.
Mr. Bradley said the impetus for the project was a spate of national and international studies in recent years indicating that American students were faring poorly in mathematics and science. One six-nation study re leased in 1989, for example, showed American students ranked at or near the bottom in those subjects. (See Education Week, Feb. 8, 1989.)
Future Problems Seen
The association official noted that when the baby-boom generation be gins to retire in 2010 the next popula tion group will be smaller, with wom en and members of minority groups, who traditionally have been underreH presented in the sciences, making up a sizable share of the workforce.
Mr. Bradley said studies have warned that 55 percent to 65 percent of that younger generation may be functionally illiterate.
"And 70 percent won't be able to get a job that requires any kind of math or science background," he added. "We thought we ought to try to do something about it." In June, Mr. Bradley's organiza tion invited engineering associL tions to join in the effort, and more than two dozen groups responded. He said the resulting task force has since subdivided into smaller groups in an effort to resolve questions out the volunteers' roles in the schools and how the project would be financed and publicized.
By the end of the year, Mr. Brad ley added, the group hopes to have a formal strategy in place that would include some training or instrucL onal materials so that prospective volunteers would have "some under standing of the very real struggle that a 4th-grade teacher, for exam ple, has to get something done by the end of the day."