Contact: Ellen Sterner
SMU News & Media Relations
(214) 768-7650

January 24, 2002


Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison makes a policy statement on the need for more engineers in the U.S. and officially announces the creation of The Institute for Engineering Education at SMU at a ceremony on February 22, 2002.

DALLAS (SMU) -- Southern Methodist University has received $800,000 from the federal government to launch a national institute that will promote engineering education from kindergarten through graduate school.

The Institute for Engineering Education at SMU will lead the nation in developing innovative programs, curricula and technology to increase the quality, quantity and diversity of engineering graduates in the United States.

“The United States has enjoyed pre-eminence in engineering over the past century,” said Stephen Szygenda, dean of the SMU School of Engineering. “This has contributed substantially to the economic success and growth of our country. If we are to maintain this advantage in the new century, we must attract more of the best students into engineering and technology programs, redesign our academic curricula to satisfy the needs of the future and challenge our graduates to even greater heights.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) helped secure funding for the new institute because engineering school enrollments and graduation rates are decreasing while the demand for engineers is steadily increasing. The SMU Board of Trustees approved the creation of the institute at its December meeting.

“The lack of qualified engineers is the single biggest issue in preparing for the economic growth in the 21st century,” Hutchison said. “If we do not increase our commitment to engineering, we may find ourselves being the technicians and the users, rather than the creators and the developers, in the technology-driven world of the future.”

Initially, the institute’s three priorities will be to expand engineering and technology education to high school classrooms, to develop a one-year college preparatory program for students who are not adequately prepared for engineering school and to develop programs that will help retain those college students who enter engineering.

Currently, fewer than 15 percent of students in the U.S. graduate from high school with the math and science courses required to study a science-based discipline in college. Of those who enter engineering school, approximately 40 percent complete the programs.

In addition, the institute will develop new engineering curricula and technology, serve as a national clearinghouse for engineering education programs and establish a program to accurately assess the impact of new engineering education initiatives on student learning.

Geoffrey Orsak, associate dean for research and development in the SMU School of Engineering, will serve as executive director of the new institute. Orsak is widely recognized as a national leader in engineering education and served as the lead author and designer of the first-ever engineering textbook for high school students.

The institute will be headed by a board that will include Orsak and Szygenda as well as other leaders from academia and industry.

“For the United States to remain the leader in today’s high-tech world, we must prepare our students in the areas of math and science and graduate more engineers from our colleges and universities,” said board member Phil Ritter, senior vice president for public affairs at Texas Instruments. “By creating this institute, SMU will be a major player in making that happen.”

Szygenda said SMU is uniquely positioned to house the institute because faculty members from its School of Engineering have been at the forefront of developing programs to address the national shortage of engineers. Planning for the institute began when Szygenda arrived at SMU in August 2000.

In 1998, the SMU School of Engineering and Texas Instruments formed the award-winning Infinity Project (sm), a partnership between leading research universities, industry, government and K-12 educators that is helping school districts incorporate modern engineering and technology into their high school curricula. During the 2000-2001 academic year, The Infinity Project piloted its high-tech engineering curriculum at 14 schools in Texas. This year, 40 schools from nine states are participating in the program. Next year, it plans to expand to 140 schools in 20 states.

“Formation of the new Institute for Engineering Education at SMU will enable the Infinity Project, together with its national partners, to increase our capacity to reach a larger percentage of students across the United States with our innovative engineering curriculum, reach even younger students with math- and science-based engineering and technology courses and create new and exciting technologies to teach engineering design to K-12 students,” Orsak said.

Szygenda has developed a 12-month program for students who demonstrate the ability to perform successfully in engineering school but who do not have the background to begin such a program. In addition to math and science coursework, the program includes supplemental courses in areas such as study skills, time management and financial management that are essential for success in a time-intensive course of study such as engineering. Szygenda plans to implement this program at SMU for the 2002 academic year.

For more information on the institute, call 214-768-4262.