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A presentation to students at Bell High School on February 19. The ACEC/Calsop program is helping to grow more engineers for the next century.

TAKING IT TO THE SCHOOLS: CALTRANS AND CONSULTANTS RECRUIT FUTURE ENGINEERS
by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 03/2009

Caltrans joins with private sector engineers to reach a new generation who will design and build tomorrow's infrastructure.

For engineers who love their jobs and would like to share their enthusiasm with a new generation, Caltrans has just the program--the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC)/Caltrans Student Outreach Program (Calsop).

The program brings experienced engineers from the private and public sectors out to Los Angeles County high schools to explain what engineers do, why it’s a great profession, and how students can grow up to be one. The campaign is called “Become an Engineer.”

These presentations take place during Engineers’ Week, which this year was observed the week of February 16 –February 20. Engineers’ Week, a coalition of more than 75 engineering, professional, and technical societies and more than 50 corporations and government agencies, began in 1951. It is held each year around the time of George Washington’s birthday; the first president, as a surveyor, is often considered America’s first engineer. Engineers’ week is dedicated to increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers while promoting pre-college literacy in math and science among young students.

The “Become an Engineer” campaign consists of a practicing engineer visiting a school classroom or assembly, a 15 minute PowerPoint presentation, a discussion/Q&A session with the visiting engineer, a gift for the teacher and student handouts.

“The ACEC/Calsop program was formed in recognition of the current dearth of engineering talent as well as looking ahead to the future generations needing to address our infrastructure requirements,” said Ralph Wong, of the district’s Consultant Services Unit. “The initial effort established a summer internship program for high school juniors and seniors; the second was the school outreach.”

Last year, the program’s efforts resulted in 26 schools asking for 49 presentations and a tripling of interest in the summer internship program. This year more than 65 presentations have been scheduled at 34 schools. Due to the success in District 7, ACEC Orange County joined as presenters this year in preparation for expanding the program to Orange County next year.

The high school internship program consists of a six week paid internship in association with City of LA Public Works High School Internship Program. Students will be employed by consulting firms and will work either in consulting firms’ offices or in the Caltrans offices. Student workshop and interviews will take place in April for July through August internships. Calsop will provide two scholarships of $500 each to internship program participants.

“Caltrans has a proactive policy to enlarge the available pool of consulting firms that can support the design and construction program,” Wong said. “Part of that policy is the encouragement of small businesses in engineering consulting to become competent partners” In that context, he added, the Department became aware of the shortage of engineering talent available to address not just transportation needs but also other infrastructure areas.

“I personally witnessed a minor spike of interest in engineering in the few years following Sputnik in 1958, then a general decline of interest,” Wong said. “In the 80s, there were few jobs for engineering graduates, so there was even less interest.”

In the intervening decades, little improvement has been observed. That has to change, or there will be insufficient engineers to manage the current transportation and other infrastructure systems, let alone design new ones. Wong believes it might help if students knew a little more about engineering history. “For example, the term ‘engineer’ comes from a Latin root meaning ‘ingenious one,’” he said. “Modern civilization does not and cannot exist without the work of civil engineers and we need to rebuild our image so that people see this as a noble enterprise.”

 

 

Ralph Wong, of District 7's Consultant Services Unit, has been instrumental in launching the successful program, which seeks to instill in young people a knowledge of the vital role engineers play in society.