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Get "SMART" on the engineering track
July 2005 - Heather Darrow
Just like the legendary “Q” of James Bond fame, today’s engineers are bringing fantasy products to the marketplace on a daily basis. Imagine creating the parts for a prosthesis that allows a person to feel or see. Or picture yourself producing a smart car that can drive and sense when it is too close to another vehicle. What if this car had an airbag that could automatically adjust impact force for your 45-pound five-year-old or your 160-pound 16-year-old?
Through a partnership with Texas Instruments, Collin County Community College District (Collin), Plano Independent School District (PISD), and The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), students who want to transcend the surreal realm between what could be and what exists today can enter a seamless, fast track into the world of engineering, science and mathematics.
Texas Instruments (TI) recently gave $1 million to Collin to endow the Science, Math, Advanced Research, Technology (SMART) educational initiative. SMART provides scholarships for students to pursue four-year degrees in engineering and related fields. The objective is to fuel a channel of highly skilled professionals in science, math, computer science, and engineering careers. The SMART program includes juniors and seniors at PISD, freshmen and sophomores at Collin, juniors and seniors at UTD, and faculty from each of the educational partners.
Currently nine students at Collin are enrolled in the SMART program. Students in the program receive up to $2,500 annually to cover tuition, fees and books, and the scholarship is renewable for up to two years. PISD students in the program can receive up to $400 scholarships to cover dual enrollment costs. The deadline for SMART concurrent enrollment applications (PISD and Collin) is August 1. Collin SMART students are simultaneously enrolled in both Collin and UTD.
The “Q's” at TI, better known as engineers, pioneered the Digital Signal Processor (DSP), or brains, that can process all of the information for a prosthetic device that offers feeling and sight. Companies who use TI technology are developing the smart car and airbag, too. The only thing missing from the picture are enough local engineers to keep generating the products we crave.
According to Torrence Robinson, TI director of public affairs, the number of engineering students nationally in the mid-1980s was roughly 25,000. Just a decade later, that figure had dwindled to half the amount.
“Eighty percent of all occupations require science and math skills. Innovation, creativity and using engineering-related curriculum are applied to solve today’s and tomorrow’s problems,” said Robinson.
“Collin is one of the most forward-thinking community colleges that I have had the pleasure to work with. They understand that they need to provide the right type of training to the community. They are making sure that what needs to be done in the 21st century marketplace gets done,” he added.
This year TI is celebrating its 75th anniversary and, according to Robinson, in order for TI to continue to be innovative for the next 75 years the company needs local, talented engineers. SMART is providing engineering graduates to fit the bill.
Besides a decline in U.S.-produced engineers, the country is beginning to experience a “brain drain.”
“Almost half of all the engineering graduates in this country are foreign nationals. In the past they remained in our country because the jobs were here. However, with the technological advances we are seeing in other countries, these students take their expertise and go back home, which is compounding our need to get more students interested in technology careers,” Robinson added.
Collin student Jason Sims is looking forward to finishing his engineering degree and filling one of those waiting positions. A student in the SMART program, Sims has taken classes for two years at Collin and is currently in the process of transferring to UTD. He is pursuing a degree in electrical engineering because he enjoys the challenge that mathematics and science offer.
“What is fascinating to me about engineering is how everything works together in a specific manner. Engineers have to find that one way to make things work. We will always need engineers; they are the ones that design buildings and create the technology of the future. We need engineering to advance our civilization. It would be really great if I could work for TI right out of college. That would set my career for me,” said Sims.
According to Ann Beheler, Collin dean/executive director of engineering and emerging technologies, the future is bright for local up-and-coming engineers and technologists because of the SMART program.
“Thanks to TI’s generosity, we have funding for scholarships to educate future engineers and technologists in this region. The economy is definitely rebounding in both these areas as evidenced by the number of inquiries we are getting from companies wanting to hire our graduates,” said Beheler.
SMART scholars can matriculate to the School of Engineering at UTD and major in computer science, electrical engineering, computer engineering or telecommunications engineering.
“The University of Texas at Dallas is a proud partner in the SMART initiative, a program designed to educate some of the brightest students in North Texas who aspire to work in the fields of science, mathematics and engineering,” said Dr. Bob Helms, dean of UTD’s Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.
“There is a demonstrated need for top-quality workers in these fields, and focused programs like SMART provide a unique launching pad for identifying and developing the high technology leaders of tomorrow.”
Competing against a classroom full of men doesn’t intimidate Collin SMART student Lindsey Green. She intends to stand out as a leader in her journey to become an electrical engineer.
“Women can become engineers, too; it is not just a man’s field. Collin teachers are really thorough and so enthusiastic about the subject that they make the students enthusiastic as well,” she said.
Green, whose love of building things goes back to her childhood and a pile of Legos, says she likes engineering because you create something tangible.
“If you work in sales, you contribute by talking to other people but you don't have a physical product from your own work. In engineering, you try to make technology and the world better with the product you create,” she added.
Computer science major and Collin SMART student Nathan Klick says the SMART scholarship has been extremely helpful.
“I am currently working two part-time jobs and it took a lot of the stress off. I have more time to study because I do not have to work as much to pay the bills.”
Klick has taken a variety of classes at the college and holds certifications in Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE).
“Computers are not going away. There is an infinite need for people who can educate users on how to control, maintain and limit the dangers created by spy ware, ad ware (promotional pop-ups that can collect personal information without your consent) and viruses,” said Klick.
SMART scholarships are already helping Collin students, and soon local high school students will be getting a head start on their future engineering and engineering-related degrees.
According to Paul Weaver, director of counseling and guidance for PISD, the SMART partnership is a model for other businesses and communities.
“We are very excited about the SMART program. It is a wonderful opportunity for PISD students. It is a great show of ownership of students, not just at the high school but also at the community college and as future citizens of the community. As other businesses see this, it will be interesting to see what they do,” said Weaver.
Engineers may not all look like the various “Q” characters in James Bond movies, but they do bring imaginary gadgets to life. After all, the heart of the device in the TI Speak & Spell toy that allowed ET to phone home was really just a very early digital speech processor.
Additional information on the SMART scholarship, which includes questions, answers and an online application, is provided at www.ccccd.edu/smart. To apply, complete the online application and contact Wayne Jones, Collin associate dean of engineering and emerging technologies at email@example.com or 972-377-1715 for more information.
Heather Darrow is a writer for the Collin County Communty College District.
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