With a nearly $4 million grant, the University of Maryland will lead a first-of-its-kind effort to offer a nationwide pre-college course on engineering principles and design, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced yesterday.

The pilot program, Engineering For US All (E4USA), will test the effectiveness of a standardized educational curriculum across multiple states with the goal of developing a pathway for high school students to earn college credit.

“Every student should have access to a high-quality, pre-college curriculum that teaches engineering principles and practices while incorporating design-based experiences,” said Darryll Pines, dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering and lead researcher on this project. “The skills learned in engineering classrooms enable students from demographically and geographically diverse schools to not only become better prepared for the academic challenges within science, technology, engineering and math courses, but to become better prepared for life.”

The project is a partnership with Arizona State University, Morgan State University and Virginia Tech. During the pilot, researchers will refine a curriculum developed by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the College Board. That curriculum will integrate engineering principles and a student design project, and it will align with the Next Generation Science Standards for K–12 education, developed by 26 states and other partners.

Vanderbilt University, a university partner as well, will evaluate the curriculum, student learning and teacher training. Additional collaborators include NASA Goddard and Project Lead the Way. Over 1,000 students at approximately 40 high schools are expected to complete the pilot over the three-year period.

"NSF helps build the nation’s future engineering workforce, and a key part of that is enabling more students to have access to and preparation for undergraduate engineering education," said Dawn Tilbury, assistant director of NSF’s Directorate for Engineering. "A standardized high school engineering course will help remove the mystery and democratize the learning and practice of engineering."

In February, more than 100 U.S. deans of engineering indicated their willingness to award credit for entering undergraduate students who successfully completed a high-quality introductory course in engineering while in high school.

By completion of the pilot, hundreds of engineering educators will be involved in shaping the curriculum. Continued support and feedback from high school teachers are critical to the pilot’s success.

“The most important element in student learning is the teacher,” said Margaret J. McLaughlin, part of the E4USA team and associate dean for research and innovation and partnerships at the UMD College of Education. “How we teach students design-based thinking cuts across science standards and other disciplines, which is why it is essential to effectively train teachers to introduce this way of thinking to their students.”

Teachers will be grouped as a network to create a broad learning community. An online platform will enable teachers to collaborate, learn from one another and receive support by sharing teaching materials and challenges.

“E4USA provides guidelines for learning management systems and the online analytical tools for centralized data collection and protocols,” said Leigh Abts, an associate researcher with a joint appointment in the Clark School and College of Education who is helping to lead the project. “E4USA will offer teachers online, mentored, video-based professional development supported by online modules and mentoring.”  

For over five years, engineering deans in the ASEE PreK-12 Engineering Education Committee have been laying the groundwork for an advanced high school course in engineering. “I am thrilled that we are that much closer to offering this opportunity to all U.S. students,” said Pines.