Talent search: Finding potential to fill the need for future engineers

Engineering is 'outrageously cool,' says ASU professor Tony Rodriguez, who has earned $5 million in NSF support to ramp up efforts to attract transfer students

February 7, 2017

As Armando Antonio “Tony” Rodriguez sees it, one of our most costly societal failures is that we too often let valuable talent go to waste.

“You can find the potential for talent almost anywhere, but we are losing out on benefiting from it when we don’t nurture it and don’t give people substantive opportunities to develop it,” said Rodriguez, a professor of electrical engineering in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Professor Tony Rodriguez talks to community college students visiting Arizona State University's Tempe campus to learn about studies in ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. A National Science Foundation grant is enabling Rodriguez to expand his efforts to encourage more young students to pursue engineering careers. Photo by Peter Zrioka/ASU Download Full Image

For more than two decades, Rodriguez — who in 1998 received a Presidential Award for Excellence from the Clinton administration for his service as a mentor to students — has worked to help remedy that problem by stepping beyond his role as a teacher and researcher to collaborate with ASU colleagues on improving student recruitment and retention.

Most significantly, he teamed with Mary Anderson-Rowland, a Fulton Schools associate professor of industrial engineering, now retired, to establish the Motivated Engineering Transfer Students program in 2003 to widen the path for students to progress from community college to university studies for bachelor’s degrees in engineering and related fields.

More than 90 percent of upper-division transfer students brought to ASU through the METS program have graduated, and more than half have gone on to pursue graduate degrees in engineering.

Rodriguez says that track record of success, along with a focus on graduate school and the proposed focus on career-steering student projects in areas of national importance, was likely a big factor in his recent award of a National Science Foundation grant for a new project he believes will boost the METS program’s performance while providing students enhanced professional development activities. 

The grant will provide $5 million over the next five years for the Fulton Schools to partner with nine Arizona community colleges with aim of putting more students into the community-college-to-ASU pipeline toward careers in engineering and related science and technology fields.

The partner schools are Central Arizona College, Eastern Arizona College, Estrella Mountain Community College, Glendale Community College, Mesa Community College, Mohave Community College, Cochise College, Phoenix College and Yavapai College.

Challenging students to discover their passion

The new program’s formal title is Academic Success and Professional Development Project-Based Engineering Excellence Transfer Academy Across Arizona — or ASAP for short.

The program will encourage selected transfer students to continue their college education by awarding a more than $640,000 each year in various amounts through different types of scholarships and incentive grants. Over its five years, Rodriguez expects the program to directly aid almost 1,000 students, and many more indirectly.

“Professors Rodriguez and Anderson-Rowland have had a big impact on the academic success of our transfer students,” said professor James Collofello, vice dean of Academic and Student Affairs for the Fulton Schools. “We will be working closely with the ASAP program partners to attract more students to engineering and provide them the experiences and support they need to be successful.”

ASAP will require students to complete challenging engineering projects designed to help them “discover, nurture and develop their technical passions and professional skills” within engineering, Rodriguez said.

Program scholars are required to take an Academic Success and Professional Development course “that we provide to lay the groundwork for academic success as well as career-propelling, mentor-driven research and training projects,” he said.

Envisioning a fulfilling future in engineering

Rodriguez and his collaborators at the community colleges must first do the job of selling engineering as a career option to students who are often uncertain of their ability to succeed academically in the field, or who simply don’t fully understand the rewarding opportunities that engineering careers offer.

In his own career, Rodriguez has applied his electrical engineering skills to making advances in aircraft and spacecraft, robots, missiles, drones, hypersonic vehicles, power systems, fisheries and renewable resources, among other things.

“My career has been amazing. I’ve been very fortunate. Engineering is outrageously cool, and America’s youth need to understand this,” he said. “Unfortunately, too many young people see it as nerdy, too hard, boring, or not particularly relevant.”

He and his ASAP program partners will be working to overcome such misconceptions — informing students of the many new technologies and improvements to modern life that engineers have made possible.

“We want them to be able to envision an exciting future for themselves, to understand that there is an ongoing technological revolution taking place, and that with proper planning they can participate and contribute,” he said.

The eventual payoff will be not only students’ career achievements but their contributions to the country, economically and otherwise.

“With advances such as organ growth, precision DNA manipulation, exoplanet-finding telescopes, driverless vehicles and much more, we are in a time of unprecedented technological revolution,” Rodriguez said. “The nation simply needs more engineers if we are going to compete successfully on the world stage. We cannot afford to waste talent. Engineering schools must aggressively recruit and nurture such talent.”

He is already at work on new proposals for efforts to expand the reach of the Fulton Schools’ recruitment, education and research missions by partnering with schools in neighboring Southwest states.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


CNN analyst and best-selling author Jeffrey Toobin to speak in Tempe on Feb. 28

February 7, 2017

Jeffrey Toobin, senior analyst for CNN and staff writer for The New Yorker, has been named the 2017 Rhodes Chair in Public Policy and American Institutions at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University.

He will deliver the 2017 John J. Rhodes Lecture in Public Policy titled “The Supreme Court in the Post Obama Age” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway. The event is open to the public. Tickets are free with a small surcharge. Jeffrey Toobin, CNN analyst, best-selling author and columnist for The New Yorker, will speak about the U.S. Supreme Court after Obama on Feb. 28 in Tempe. Photo by Big Speak

What direction will the U.S. Supreme Court take with the end of the eight-year administration of President Barack Obama and the newly elected President Donald Trump? What will be the implications and consequences of a more conservative Supreme Court? Will long-held constitutional rights be upheld? Toobin, one of the country’s most high-profile experts in politics, media and the law, will address these issues and others in his lecture.

Toobin earned his bachelor's degree from Harvard College and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. He has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1993 and the senior legal analyst for CNN since 2002.

He is the author of several best-sellers, including "The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court," which delves into the historical, political and personal inner workings of the Supreme Court and its justices. "The Nine" spent more than four months on the New York Times Best Seller list and was named one of the best books of the year by Time, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly and the Economist. It also received the 2008 J. Anthony Lukas Prize for Nonfiction from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

His latest book, "The Oath," is a sequel to "The Nine" and gives an insider’s account of the ideological war between the John Roberts Supreme Court and the Obama administration. Toobin also is the author of the best-sellers "Too Close to Call: the Thirty-Six Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election"; "A Vast Conspiracy: the Real Story of the Sex Scandal that Nearly Brought Down a President"; and "The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson."

Previously, Toobin served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn. He also served as an associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, an experience that provided the basis for his first book, "Opening Arguments: A Young Lawyer's First Case — United States v. Oliver North."

The John J. Rhodes Chair, celebrates the public-service career of one of Arizona’s and the nation’s most distinguished leaders, John J. Rhodes, who served in the U.S. Congress from 1953 to 1983. The Rhodes Chair delivers the Rhodes Lecture and is dedicated to deepening theoretical and practical understanding of the many voices and forces that influence public policy. The Chair honors the values of personal integrity, fiscal responsibility, respect for persons, and international farsightedness exemplified in the Hon. John J. Rhodes’ career. 

Nicole Greason

Director of Marketing and Public Relations , Barrett, The Honors College