1 Rochester Institute of Technology (UNITED STATES)
2 Honeoye Falls-Lima High School (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2009 Proceedings
Publication year: 2009
Pages: 1596-1607
ISBN: 978-84-613-2953-3
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 2nd International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 16-18 November, 2009
Location: Madrid, Spain
Over the past several years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of new interdisciplinary degree programs offered by colleges and universities. The curricula of these programs typically weave together selected elements of traditional disciplines into highly specialized fields of study such as bioinformatics and sustainability.
Because these fields are so specialized one of the great challenges facing academic administrators, particularly at the undergraduate level, is the recruitment of students. This challenge arises in part from the fact that virtually none of the prospective students receive any exposure to these subjects in their high schools. As a result, even those who are most likely to succeed in these programs have little understanding of the nature of the subjects, and they have no awareness of post-graduation opportunities for employment or advanced education. Without such information it comes as no surprise that very few choose to major in these subjects.
One such degree program, the undergraduate imaging science program at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has spent the past decade struggling with the challenge of low enrollments. In spite of a nearly 100% success rate in placing graduates in global science positions or advanced degree programs, the incoming freshman class typically consists of only 8-12 students – a number which fails to satisfy the industry demand for graduates, and which threatens the long-term viability of the program and the advancement of important technology.
In an effort to address this shortfall and attract more students, the imaging science department established a comprehensive, nationwide educational outreach program. This program employed a variety of live classroom demonstrations, campus visits, and online technologies to expose over 1000 secondary school students each year to the wealth of opportunities available in these fields. The effectiveness of these various outreach initiatives has been tracked for several years. The data show that the payoff for most is very low, from 0%-2%. However one initiative, a summer internship, has historically returned a much greater payoff – about 14%.
The summer internship, now in its 10th year, has given 100 high school students the opportunity to work side-by-side with faculty, staff, and imaging science students, graduate and undergraduate, on actual sponsored research projects. The high school students become paid employees of RIT for the duration of their 7-week internship. Not only does each serve as a contributing member of a research team under the guidance of a professional scientist, but each is also exposed to college students from departments across the RIT campus by attending weekly presentations and thesis defenses on a wide range of technical topics. They are exposed to career opportunities through a series of field trips to local companies in the imaging industry. And they develop their communication skills through a capstone presentation on their research to a diverse audience in a conference-like setting. Some interns have even co-authored articles which have been published in professional journals.
The success of the intern program has been the incentive for the imaging science department to implement novel approaches to expose more students to this field, including the opportunity to take an introductory tuition free-course in the field for college credit, offered for the first time in the summer of 2009.
innovation, high school education, college recruitment.