In the conversation about the future of American education, one ever-present theme is the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines to prepare students for the jobs of the future. What’s less common, however, is an effective plan for introducing those disciplines in a way that captures students’ imagination and interest.
“You don’t become an engineer overnight, or jump into a STEM career field overnight,” said Mauri-Myers Solages, Corporate Citizenship Manager for National Grid. “It takes access and opportunity to introduce these disciplines to young people.”
Providing access to those opportunities comes with challenges of its own.
“Most of the teachers in middle schools and high schools don’t have an engineering background,” said Mónica Bugallo, a professor in Stony Brook University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and faculty director of the University’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Honors program. “Even if they have a physics background, they need to acquire the engineering skills that are needed.”
For more than a decade, with National Grid’s support, Bugallo’s Next Generation Engineering Programs at Stony Brook have helped K-12 students, teachers, and guidance counselors across Long Island better understand engineering, and made engineering more accessible to underrepresented students and communities.
In a region where engineering jobs are growing four times faster than the national average (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the New York State Department of Labor), this is truly essential work.
“One of the things we’re most proud of is being able to make a path for underserved and underrepresented students to participate in the program,” Myers-Solages said, “and in particular, girls, and making that a priority.”
Improving representation in — and access to — STEM careers has been a focus of National Grid from the beginning of its support of Bugallo’s programs, starting with their initial gifts in 2011, for Bugallo’s two-week engineering summer camp programs for high school students on the Stony Brook campus.
In addition to sending National Grid engineers to Stony Brook to speak to camp participants, the company began making annual five-figure contributions to the program, funding participation of underrepresented students, including women and students from underrepresented socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Many of those students have never been to a university campus,” Bugallo said. “And many of them have never been to an engineering laboratory.”
Still, there’s a limit to what can be accomplished in two weeks during the summer. Real change requires a sustained effort, with multiple contributors. That’s why National Grid’s first six-figure gift to Stony Brook and Bugallo’s programs — made in 2016 — covered not just the engineering summer camp, but a variety of activities, including workshops for high school teachers and guidance counselors.
“It’s great when the kids come in for summer camp and weekend programs,” Myers-Solages said, “but if you don’t have teachers who can continue to fulfill the excitement and the subject matter, then it kind of falls flat. [Bugallo] came up with the idea that we would be able to be more effective if we also involved teachers and got them equally excited, and renewed their knowledge base of STEM, because it is constantly changing and evolving at a very fast pace.”
In working directly with schools, Bugallo is helping teachers and department chairs implement the Next Generation Science Standards, which are due to be mandated in New York beginning in 2020. Still, the impact of Bugallo’s work goes far beyond checking off boxes, to ensure that students are truly prepared to pursue STEM careers.
Guidance counselors need to understand the difference between computer science and computer engineering, for example, if they are to help their students prepare for their ideal careers, just as much as teachers need to be able to incorporate engineering concepts into the curriculum. Bugallo’s experience over more than a decade of running outreach programs at Stony Brook — and the resulting knowledge of the educational and engineering landscapes — make her an ideal partner, both for schools and for National Grid.
“Her enthusiasm and passion for engineering and helping young people grasp pre-engineering concepts is contagious,” Myers-Solages said. “She has so many ideas, and she wants to extend and explore all possibilities.”
And, with National Grid’s help, Bugallo and her Stony Brook colleagues are extending possibilities for students across Long Island.
“Mónica Bugallo exemplifies the highest standards not only of engineering education, but of thought leadership,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, dean of Stony Brook’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The support National Grid provides for her Next Generation Engineering Programs has made it possible for Stony Brook to have a powerful impact on education for students all over Long Island.”