Despite the strides made to encourage girls and young women to pursue majors in the STEM topics of science, technology, engineering and math, the latest studies say that after sophomore year in high school, their interest drops off precipitously.
and his colleagues in the Tagliatela College of Engineering are working to change that statistic. Golbazi is active in Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a highly regarded national program that develops STEM curriculum for middle and high schools.
The comprehensive curriculum for engineering and biomedical sciences has been collaboratively designed by PLTW teachers, university educators, engineering and biomedical professionals and school administrators to promote critical thinking, creativity, innovation and real-world problem solving skills. Students take a national test at the end of the courses and can receive up to 12 college credits.
In November, PLTW will roll out a new curriculum aimed at getting students interested in engineering as early as in second grade.
UNH, the only PLTW affiliate in the state, trains teachers each summer from across Connecticut. They can become certified to teach seven different engineering and five biotechnology courses. This past summer 28 teachers took part. The curriculum is used in 65 high schools and middle schools in the state and more than 5,000 schools across the country.
Golbazi is passionate about spreading the word that engineering, science, technology and math are exciting fields to study and can lead to fulfilling and fascinating careers. He is so dedicated that he’s spent the last 11 years as UNH’s PLTW coordinator while also tending to his work as professor of electrical and computer engineering and computer science and now as the department chair.
The expansion of PLTW to the elementary level, coupled with plans for relocating the New Haven Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS) to a new building planned for the west side of the UNH campus, makes prospects for young women entering the fields even more promising, Golbazi said.
“The female population in middle school and high school is very interested, but for some reason during the junior and senior years, they lose interest and consequently engineering colleges lose the pool of talented women who can make excellent engineers,” he said. “We’ve encouraged schools to run conferences just for girls, and we share best practices on how it has been done in other places.”
A few years ago, an engineering conference for girls was held in New London. The overwhelming turnout of female engineers and scientists from around the region who took part in the conference and spoke about their work was “amazing,” Golbazi said. While the program is free, getting engineering and biomedical courses up and running in schools, particularly in the inner-cities that face severe budget constraints, is proving challenging. Golbazi and his UNH colleagues as well as educators around the state are pushing for a coalition — of legislators, educators and industry leaders — that would become champions of the program, working together to find private donors and public funding to bring the program to more school systems in the state.
The benefits are striking,” Golbazi said, “as 97 percent of PLTW seniors intend to pursue a four-year degree or higher, while the national average is 67 percent. Additionally, 80 percent of the PLTW seniors say they will study engineering, technology or computer science in college, while the national average is 32 percent.
Students create, design, build, discover, collaborate and solve problems while applying what they learn in math and science. They're also exposed to STEM fields through professionals from local industries who supplement the real-world aspect of the curriculum through mentorships and workplace experiences.
“There’s no question industry is looking for a different kind of work force,” said Golbazi. “They are looking for well-roundedness, communication skills and the ability to work in teams, which are all attributes of the PLTW curriculum. Groups of PLTW students in Connecticut and California can work on a project and create a final piece together and practice what happens in the real world just as an engineering group in China and the U.S. can design and work on a project that eventually comes together.
“If the United States is to get its competitive edge back, and if we are going to be the leaders in engineering and science again, our graduates must be well-prepared not only in core areas, but they must also learn how to work collaboratively with others,” Golbazi said.
This story, by Writer/Editor Jackie Hennessey, originally appeared in UNH Today on September 30, 2013.