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IN THE NEWS:

Bruins in Paris

Building up future engineers

By Jeyling Chou

March 10, 2005 9:00 p.m.

In the rooms of Ackerman Union, groups of high school students
design and assemble their own circuits. Others learn the basics of
computer programming or nanotechnology.

UCLA engineering students at all levels ““ from
undergraduates to post-doctorate researchers to alumni ““
stand by ready to answer questions.

In the middle of it all, Rick Ainsworth, director of
UCLA’s Center for Excellence in Engineering & Diversity,
watches as a national problem is tackled from the regional
level.

“There’s a troubling decline in the numbers of
scientists and engineers produced in the U.S.,” Ainsworth
said. “The chief reason we’re falling behind is because
of lack of investment in education.”

Over 250 high school students came to UCLA yesterday from eight
high schools to participate in workshops and demonstrations geared
toward science and engineering concepts and career possibilities,
all part of a Young Engineers & Scientists event.

Ainsworth described a global trend in which many other countries
have begun investing in math, science and engineering education as
a means of economic revitalization.

The National Science Foundation reported in 2004 that the number
of U.S. jobs requiring science and engineering skills is growing at
nearly five percent annually, compared with a 1 percent growth rate
for the rest of the U.S. labor market.

The current rate of students entering science and engineering
fields is falling very short of the demand.

“It’s about intervention in the education system to
galvanize students toward math and science,” Ainsworth said.
“It’s not an easy thing to do. Most people avoid
it.”

CEED works closely with the statewide Mathematics, Engineering,
Science Achievement program to promote the interest of students in
science and math-based careers.

One of the presenters at the event was Enrique Baez, a
representative from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, who
sat at a table behind robotic arms and scale models of the Mars
exploration rovers.

“I’m here as an example of what can be done,”
Baez said, a former UCLA mechanical engineering student.

“My objective for the day is to get the idea in their
head, spark some interest,” he said.

MESA students can also participate in the Science, Mathematics
Achievement and Research Technology for Students summer program,
which allows them to conduct research and take classes at UCLA and
other regional institutions.

Jacque Perkins, a student from the Los Angeles Center for
Enriched Studies, participated in the program last summer and
conducted DNA extraction experiments alongside UCLA graduate
students.

Perkins used centrifuges and pipets to determine the genetic
basis of seed dispersal patterns from leaf samples of a species of
African tree. As a high school student, he was also exposed to the
environment and etiquette of a university research lab.

“I didn’t realize how you have to be so precise in
everything you do,” the high school senior said.

He has applied to Stanford, Berkeley and UCLA, and said he hopes
to pursue a career in medicine.

The growing numbers of students attending high school in urban
areas has not been tapped into for its full potential, Ainsworth
said.

“The contribution of students from urban schools is far
below their proportion,” he said. “They’re not on
this campus, and they’re certainly not in the school of
engineering.”

But statistics are already showing a shift away from that bleak
outlook. Approximately 80 percent of students who participate in
SMARTS go on to a four-year institution, Ainsworth said.

Lorenz Cisne, one of Perkins’ classmates, has participated
in MESA programs since the fifth grade and has already been
accepted to the University of Michigan’s pre-architecture
program. “˜There’s so much in the world with
engineering,” Cisne said.

She said she hopes the structures of scientific and engineering
fields will improve her critical analysis skills.

“In math, two plus two will always equal four,” she
said. “You’re pretty much always going to find an
answer, you just have to work at it.”

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