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Time For A New Approach

Time For A New ApproachBy changing the way science is taught, Tufts' engineering dean is leading a trend to erase engineering's reputation as male dominated.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.24.01] Ioannis Miaoulis thinks it's time to change the way people think about engineering. Its long-standing reputation as a male-dominated profession needs to change, says the dean of Tufts' School of Engineering. At the forefront of a national trend, Ioannis Miaoulis is working to make science education more relevant to today's students.

"The physical climate and social climate are very important," Miaoulis told the Boston Globe on Sunday. "Engineering in many places is macho and abstract and gray, which is not very attractive to girls and young women. We're making an extra effort to change the way we do things here."

Miaoulis is approaching the challenge from two directions: he's reshaping the way engineering is taught at Tufts while simultaneously helping to revamp the science curriculum in Massachusetts at the grade school level.

At Tufts, Miaoulis is increasing the emphasis on project-based learning.

"Instead of just reinforcing math and science skills during the first two years of the engineering major, Tufts now introduces engineering projects from the start of freshman year," reported the Globe.

It appears to be working.

"Miaoulis says making engineering more hands-on from the beginning attracts students -- especially women -- and convinces them to stay in the major instead of dropping out," reported the newspaper.

According to the Globe, "Tufts is one of many Boston-area colleges and universities in the process of beefing up engineering and science programs with an eye toward attracting more students to these fields."

While other national universities have made changes to their teaching methods, the Tufts dean is taking some additional steps to increase interest in science and engineering.

If kids don't like science while they are in grade school, they aren't likely to change their minds when they enter college, Miaoulis reasons.

"Part of the problem, Miaoulis said, is that science isn't taught in a way that is relevant or practical," reported the Globe. "To address that problem, he convinced the Massachusetts Board of Education late last year to require engineering instruction in every grade, making Massachusetts the first state to do so."

The initiative, which is now used as a model in states across the country -- is designed to boost interest in science and engineering from an early age.

And Tufts has created mentoring programs, summer camps and special programs to continue to build that interest until students graduate from high school.

One such program was created in an elementary school classroom in Stowe, Mass. Tufts partnered with Intel Corp. to create a special program to encourage young girls to get involved in engineering.

According to the Globe, "Engaging young girls in engineering lessons is more complicated than just outfitting them with materials for experiments, said Miaoulis. While boys may tend to me more content with inducing explosions and colorful reactions, he said, girls tend to want to understand the real-world relevance of the processes."

So Tufts helped design a lab to make the science relevant.

"Stacked with beakers, chemicals and other building blocks of a mini-engineering lab, the classroom hosts steady streams of third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders from the adjacent Center School," reported the Globe. "As students measure carbon dioxide and build miniature structures with Legos, they are getting what educators say is an early dose of engineering know-how."

And the girls are responding well to the new approach.

"So far these efforts have succeeded, educators say, as more young female students have shown an interest in math and science," the Globe reported.

The progress, Miaoulis says, comes at an important time.

"We have a tremendous need," he told the Associated Press when Massachusetts approved the new state-wide engineering curriculum. "We have a lot of people with high ability who simply do not choose the field because they don't know what it is. It is our job to help them."

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