JETS Re-Energizes to Connect with Engineering’s Next Generation
To see America’s technological future, scan the pages of any high school yearbook: girls and boys of every ethnic and social background with the potential to become the nation’s next generation of engineers, but who often lack the tools, motivation and guidance to get there. Now, a newly invigorated push from one of engineering’s oldest youth outreach programs, the Junior Engineering Technological Society (JETS), is stepping up to answer that challenge.
Founded in 1950 to encourage young people to consider careers in engineering and technology, JETS offers academic competitions, mentor programs, educational materials and scholarships to increase the number of students in the career “pipeline.”
Despite its long history, however, JETS organizers say that surging growth rates for science and engineering occupations, coupled with lagging numbers of students ready to fill those slots, has led to a full-court press to answer this urgent need. The result is a 56-year-old program retooled and revitalized to meet the realities of the new millennium and recently cited by Bayer Corporation as being among the country’s best STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education programs for secondary students.
JETS’ new thrust has been more than simply fine-tuning. After a three-year review of all programs, the society has breathed new life into its efforts and made a fresh commitment to the challenge at hand, including a concerted effort to increase outreach to girls and other under-represented populations in the fields of technology and engineering.
For example, TEAMS is a national one-day competition at more than 100 colleges and universities, where 14,000 students annually vie to solve real-world engineering challenges–albeit fun ones, such as designing an ice cream manufacturing plant–and experience firsthand the rigors and importance of engineering. Half of the TEAMS participants surveyed last year indicated that they will choose engineering as a college major, not including those who cited related disciplines such as math, science and technology. As another indication of the push for increased student outreach, first-time school participation in TEAMS rose 68% in 2006.
During its makeover, JETS also took a close look at how engineering is presented to young people. One result of that repositioning is to focus less on hammering at “Are you good at math and science?” which alienates many young people, and instead emphasize how engineering can effect positive change in society, to which both girls and boys have a much better response.
For example, a previous TEAMS competition question would flatly state, “Your group has the task of selecting the proper pump for an application that involves the pumping of water over a long pipeline. In particular, you have to make sure that the selected pump is able to generate the required flow rate.”
Compare that to the introductory wording of a 2007 competition challenge: “Mining engineers protect the lives of coal-miners by designing safety equipment.”
JETS executive director Leann Yoder says her organization’s re-launch is in tune with the realities of young people, who are far different from when JETS was established in 1950 and even 20 or 10 years ago.
“We’ve concentrated a lot of our effort to reaching young people through our website, because that’s where they get the majority of their information,” says Yoder. The site, www.jets.org , includes everything about the organization and its programs, the latest in technology news and access to podcasts and resource guides.