AAES Spotlights Groundbreaking Educational Paths, Programs

The way engineers prepare for the job market is everchanging.

AAES leaders heard from two very different but equally relevant education programs at the November meeting in Reston, VA. Both align with AAES’ Memorandum of Understanding regarding re-entry and alternative paths into the engineering profession.

Stephen Phillips, Ph.D., Director of the School of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering at Arizona State University, discussed his school’s online education options. Students can now do 100-percent online ABET-accredited undergraduate engineering degrees.

“The quality measures that ABET puts in place enabled us to do this,” Phillips said. “We now have more online undergraduates than face-to-face.” In addition, these online programs are reaching a different population (in regard to veteran/active military status and age) than those enrolled in face-to-face programs.

Arizona State launched its first all-online BSE program in 2013 (in electrical engineering). The program has grown in the years since. Phillips said that Skype-based office hours have grown so popular that often face-to-face students request that option as well. The required lab work is accomplished through a combination of hardware kits, simulations, and web-controlled experiments.

Phillips’ presentation generated good conversation in the room, ranging from consideration of how to encourage employer acceptance of online degrees to discussions about graduation rates and retention strategies.

One of the most difficult points of the career arc, regardless of what kind of degree you have, is that of reentering the workforce after an extended absence. Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Executive Director Karen Horting and Vice President of Strategic Partnerships Jennifer Scott addressed that challenge with a presentation about the SWE STEM Re-Entry program.

The goal, Horting explained, is to better leverage the pool of talent, using what they call a “returnship” to help reintegrate women and men both to the workforce after a prolonged time away. Maybe it was a career pause to focus on family, maybe there was an illness, maybe the person simply needed time to reassess his or her life and career. Regardless of the reason, workforce reentry can be a major barrier blocking talented professionals from making important contributions.

The SWE program places participants in “returnships” with a variety of corporate partners, giving them several weeks (often several months) of work. The hope is that it benefits the employee and the employer both.

“They’re actually getting on-the-job training,” Scott said. “And the employer is learning about them doing real work.”

Scott said the program also has been well received by the participating organizations’ long-time employees, who welcome the outside-the-box approach taken by their employers. And of course, the professional reentering the workforce is often afforded the chance to secure fulltime work.

Both programs explored in this session highlight the importance of creating innovative educational and professional development opportunities for underserved engineering populations, benefiting not only the individuals but also enriching the engineering community.