'Redshirt' Programs Could Help Generate More Engineers

If the United States is to produce more engineering grads, universities will need to adopt creative approaches to recruit and retain students in engineering programs.

Here’s one some universities are taking: adopting the ‘redshirt’ strategy common in college athletics and kindergarten. Redshirting means delaying participation to increase readiness. Applied to engineering programs, the idea is to give high school students extra time to prepare for an engineering degree.

The University of Colorado at Boulder’s engineering school spearheaded the academic redshirting concept with its GoldShirt program in 2009. The five-year curriculum allows high school students to spend the first year catching up on math, science, and humanities courses before tackling undergraduate engineering courses. The university reports that its first redshirt engineer will graduate summa cum laude this fall after 4.5 years. The program’s retention rate is similar to that of the engineering school’s other programs.

Following Colorado's lead, the University of Washington and Washington State University to collaboratively launch a redshirt program that will start this fall. The program, which is funded by a five-year National Science Foundation grant aimed to increase engineering and computer science retention rates, targets low-income students from under-served high schools.

From Inside Higher Ed:

Part of the problem for low-income engineering majors, Riskin said [Eve Riskin is associate dean of engineering at the University of Washington], is that “[i]f you’re at an underserved high school, there’s a lot of focus on helping the kids graduate … you can get all As [at an underserved school] and then you come here and you’re in for a big shock.”

The schools say that redshirt programs will promote diversity, and should help recruit motivated students who have the right stuff for engineering, but just need a stronger footing to start.

One of the biggest challenges that science, technology, engineering and math fields face is retaining students past the first two years. And one of the top reasons STEM students give for dropping out or switching majors is difficulty with math in introductory courses. An extra year to prep and catch up could be just what they need.

PHOTO: Washington State University

Related Stories

Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.

Advertisement
Advertisement