Community Colleges Provide Afforable Beginning to Engineering Careers

Career FocusBy Sylvia Blair

Students interested in pursuing careers in engineering have a new educational option. Carroll Community College will for the first time offer courses in engineering in fall 2010. An affordable, convenient path is now available for students to transfer to four-year engineering programs in Maryland. This fall, students can begin at Carroll to prepare for high-demand engineering careers in the Baltimore-Washington technology corridor and beyond.

"I am pleased to respond to workforce needs by adding engineering at Carroll," said College President Dr. Faye Pappalardo. "It is important to give students options in preparing for a technical career."

"Carroll Community College has introduced courses in the fields of electrical engineering and computer systems engineering. Both areas of study have solid career prospects," said Dr. James Ball, vice president of academic and student affairs at Carroll.  "Current students at the college, high school graduates, and career changers in the workforce with aptitude in mathematics and science can now pursue engineering at Carroll."

Electrical engineering and computer engineering are at the top of Forbes' Most Lucrative Majors list. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2007 Job Outlook Survey, electrical and computer engineering were among the top five most "in-demand" majors.

"Adding engineering to the curricula is a step in the continuing evolution of the college," said Rob Brown, dean of business, mathematics, and sciences. "Community colleges are sometimes perceived as the place where students study for 'middle-skills' career programs. Certainly, our career programs are thriving and opening doors for our students in the workplace. However, we also want students to be aware of our strong transfer reputation. Attending Carroll for two years and then transferring to a four-year institution can be the smart path to one day becoming an engineer."

"The college is stepping up to meet the demands of industry," said faculty advisor and mathematics instructor Maria Burness. "The college is making an investment in lab equipment for engineering studies. This is quite a commitment to students and a testament to the highly regarded field of engineering."

Burness will be one of the instructors in the program. She practiced engineering in private industry for over fifteen years. Burness has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a Master of Science in Distance Education from University of Maryland University College.

"It is important for faculty to have experience in the field, which they can bring into the classroom to help students apply concepts in the real world," she said. 

Assistant Professor Chuck Grabowski will also be teaching engineering classes at Carroll.
Grabowski has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, and a Master of Business Administration, each from Penn State. He also has 20 years experience in the defense electronics industry.

"Students need to learn what the real engineering process is, starting with concept, then design and prototype, and concluding with development," said Grabowski. Several other faculty members will round out the engineering instructional team, he said.

Students who choose to begin their engineering studies at Carroll will experience lower costs, small class sizes, and the convenience of studying close to home. The program can be completed on a part-time or full-time basis.

Carroll is reaching out to prospective students in several ways. At a recent gathering of Carroll County Public Schools guidance counselors, Brown, Burness, and Grabowski presented information to high school staff who offer advice to graduating high school students about college and career options. The intent was to educate the counselors so that they have the information at their fingertips when students ask questions. Concurrently-enrolled students who are in the junior or senior years of high school and take a course or two at Carroll are another potential market.

Carroll Associate Professor Jerry Schubert has been a mentor of high school students who may decide to enter the pipeline for engineering studies at Carroll. Schubert has volunteered with Project Lead the Way, which offers a series of five engineering-type classes for students to take between their junior and senior years of high school at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center. The Project Lead the Way engineering program offers students opportunities ranging from career readiness and hands-on experience to college preparatory-level classes, labs, and creative exercises.

"The students study technical subjects via research, lectures, and hands-on projects. The group that I mentored came up with innovative designs and built working prototypes. While still in high school, these students are stimulating their science and technology interests and aptitudes for the development of real-world applications," said Schubert, who hopes that students that he mentors may someday consider engineering as a potential career.

Vincent T. Oakley, director of Field Engineering and Services at Northrop Grumman's Electronic Systems sector, is pleased to see more colleges taking the initiative of offering engineering programs. "The need for engineers and scientists is persistent and one of the biggest challenges we face as a nation. Considering the numbers of engineers relative to the overall demographics of the workforce, there is a deficit of young people considering technical career fields," said Oakley, whose office is located in the Sykesville, Maryland facility.

Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in aerospace, electronics, information systems, shipbuilding and technical services to government and commercial customers worldwide.

Oakley is an ardent proponent of community colleges. "I grew up in New York and worked for a while after graduating from high school. When I decided to go to college, I enrolled at Westchester Community College and studied engineering. The community college experience opened up doors for me to four-year universities. I eventually transferred to Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey where I received a Bachelor of Science in Engineering. I later earned a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering. But, for me, it all began with a very positive educational experience at my local community college."

Organizers of the engineering program at Carroll are confident that students will be attracted to the field of study and find the experience just as rewarding as Oakley did while a student.
Carroll's Dean Brown said a goal for the future of engineering studies is to pursue local scholarship opportunities for students and to expand partnerships in the community. But for now, the dedicated faculty team that is shepherding engineering studies at Carroll is busy preparing labs and curricula for the inaugural students who will christen the new field of study at Carroll in fall, 2010.

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