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WSU class improves engineering graduation rates here, across country

Nationwide, colleges face a challenge: as many as half of the students who aspire to be engineers drop out or switch majors, and leave the country short of the workforce it needs.

Those who give up on engineering often are discouraged by prerequisite math courses, the American Society for Engineering Education found.Wright State University has come up with a solution, and the idea has spread across the country.

Wright State created a single math course taught by engineering faculty that students take before entering classes in their major. The course addresses only the main math topics actually used in core engineering courses and replaces prerequisite calculus classes, so students can take those later in their college career.

The class has more than doubled the graduation rate for engineers who took it at Wright State since it was started in 2004. And this year, the course, called “Introductory Mathematics for Engineering Applications,” is being piloted at four historically black universities around the country with a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

“The results are stronger than we thought we would have seen,” said Nathan Klingbeil, dean of Wright State’s College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Klingbeil said America’s leaders are calling for 10,000 more engineers a year, and colleges can address that by graduating more of the students they already have.

“We’re not even close to graduating the engineers we need,” he said. “It’s going to continue getting worse because of the aging workforce, especially here in the Dayton area.”

The course has been funded with several grants from the NSF. Among them were: $100,000 to create the class in 2003 and $500,000 to bring it to the universities of Toledo and Cincinnati in 2005, Klingbeil said. It also is taught at Sinclair Community College, Bellbrook High School and will be piloted at the Dayton STEM School in spring 2014.

John Thompson said his experience dropping out of engineering in 2000 and then re-entering the major about 10 years later was “not even comparable” because of the Wright State class.

Thompson, now a master’s student, said it was “hard to stay engaged” in traditional prerequisite calculus courses because of the high-end theory involved. But the Wright State course helped him see the relevance and prepared him for the work load of being an engineering student, he said.

The program impressed Chancellor John Carey when he learned about it during his recent visit to Wright State.

“What they are doing at Wright State is definitely impressive and innovative,” he said.

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