College’s Summer Engineering Awareness Program Educates Future Engineers and Scientists

Summer program encourages high school students to pursue majors in engineering and science by introducing them to a variety of disciplines before college.

The transition from high school to college can be challenging, especially when it comes to selecting a major, which sets the course for a student’s future career. But thanks to Manhattan College’s Summer Engineering Awareness program, approximately 100 high school students are getting a glimpse into a variety of engineering and science majors for free this summer.

Throughout the summer, Manhattan offers four intensive programs geared at exposing high school students to class lectures and experiments taught by seasoned faculty, relevant field trips, and the college admission process. Students also hear from experienced professionals, many of whom are engineering alumni with careers in law, education, architecture or medicine.

“The objective of the guest speaker is to provide a cross section of personalities and characteristics for individuals, so the audience can relate to their experiences, academics and decision-making processes,” says Walter Saukin, Ph.D., associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, who founded the Summer Engineering Awareness program 31 years ago.

In addition to hearing from experienced professionals, students have the unique opportunity to participate in labs and lectures on biomedical engineering, green building design, robotics and much more.

“I want to be a mechanical or civil engineer, and with this program, I got to learn more about engineering from building, and the processes engineers go through to do such. The speakers are really informative and help us learn more about the field,” says Xavier Roberts, a senior at West Hempstead High School in Long Island, N.Y.

History of Program

We, as a profession, need to stay active in presenting ourselves to high school students to attract them to the STEM fields.

Since it first began in 1982, nearly 2,000 high school students have benefited from the Summer Engineering Awareness program, which is offered free of cost to students.

With financial assistance from the Metropolitan Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program, the General Contractors Association (GCA), the NY Building Foundation, and individual corporate sponsors, the program continues to thrive.

Similarly, Manhattan alumnus Charles H. Thornton ’61, Ph.D., P.E., launched ACE to provide high school students with insight into careers in architecture, construction and engineering, and expanded the program with assistance from Saukin.

Today, the Summer Engineering Awareness program also includes programs aimed at encouraging women and minority students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors in college. The City of Yonkers also sponsors two programs for high school students from Yonkers Public Schools.

Every year, Manhattan receives several hundred applications from high school students in the region, but the College is only able to accept 35-plus students per session. The students are selected based on academics, professional interest, and recommendations, and students not accepted into the summer program are invited to participate in the ACE year-round program.

Hands-on Learning

Lego Mindstorms videoThis year’s 10-day program began on July 8 with 40 high school students arriving on campus to participate in the program. In addition to a rigorous schedule of guest speakers and labs, students were exposed to topics connected to chemical, civil, computer, electrical, environmental and mechanical engineering, biology and physics.

For example, Robert Mauro, Ph.D., professor of electrical and computer engineering, conducted lectures and lab experiments on sustainability and electrical lighting, sound editing techniques, and computer programming. As part of the programming lab, Mauro’s class learned how to make robots move and race through LEGO’s computer software MINDSTORMS.

“I think what is the fun part for them is that they learn how to program in a way that if you can think logically, you will be able to be successful,” Mauro explains. “In two hours, students become really good programmers, and this is the only class I’ve taught where at the end of the hour you have to ask students to leave. They don’t want to stop because they get hooked.”

Other labs included an experiment where students built an isolation structure that can prevent an egg from breaking when dropped from a three-story building, and a competition where students built a structure and tested its strength by stacking phone books on it.

“We, as a profession, need to stay active in presenting ourselves to high school students to attract them to the STEM fields,” Saukin says, as he looks forward to next summer’s program.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot about engineering, and going in I wasn’t sure what it was about or what the different disciplines really entailed,” adds Emily White, a junior at Dominican Academy in New York City.