Dr. James Duderstadt: Engaging parents in early math and science education helps cultivate future engineers

According to Dr. James Duderstadt, president emeritus and university professor of science and engineering at the University of Michigan, early education programs like DAPCEP and ChiS&E improve children's ability and willingness to pursue engineering careers.


With the trend of reshoring and the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing, more skilled engineers will be needed in the coming years. Many companies, however, express their concerns over the shortage of qualified engineers. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education programs aiming to cultivate next-generation engineers and fill the skills gap are booming across the country.

DAPCEP program and the University of Michigan According to Dr. James Duderstadt, early education programs like DAPCEP and ChiS&E improve children's ability and willingness to pursue engineering careers. Courtesy: ChiS&E

Kenneth Hill founded the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP) in 1976. The initiative began in partnership with the University of Michigan to provide engineering-focused programs to Detroit public school students. Over the course of 38 years, DAPCEP has grown to serve 4,000 youth in partnership with eight Michigan universities and numerous corporations and community-based organizations.

Dr. James Duderstadt, president emeritus and university professor of science and engineering at the University of Michigan, was the president at the University of Michigan when DAPCEP first started partnering with the university. "Among all the STEM programs we've partnered with, DAPCEP was the most effective one," Duderstadt said. The University of Michigan identified and grew the program, which serves under-represented and lower income families, under Duderstadt's leadership.

Getting parents involved

According to Duderstadt, the success of the DAPCEP program comes from the concept of getting not only children but also parents involved in early math and science education. During all the DAPCEP classes and workshops, parents work side-by-side with their children on fun and educational engineering projects.

"It is important to let the parents see the potential of their children. When the parents and children both realize they have the ability to accomplish these projects, they see the future opportunities they couldn't have thought of before. They see there are real possibilities out there," Duderstadt said. Many of the DAPCEP alumni went on to top engineering schools in the nation, like MIT and Stanford.

Need for U.S. engineers

"With the trend of reshoring, we need more top engineers in this country. Foreign students are diligent, but there are some traits of American students, such as 
creativity and originality, that just can't be replaced. These traits are crucial in today's engineering industry where new things are developed every day. ChiS&E workshop at the University of Illinois at Chicago for 4th graders. Photo by Anisa Samarxhiu, CFE MediaThus, we need to motivate more students in this country to pursue engineering careers," said Duderstadt.

Chicago program growing

In 2008, Kenneth Hill founded the Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering Program (ChiS&E), modeled after the DAPCEP program, to serve the greater Chicago area, which drives many manufacturing job opportunities in the country. Targeting students from kindergarten up to 6th grade, ChiS&E knows that by starting early and involving parents, students have a 90% retention rate of interest in the areas of science and math.

Like many educational programs, its success is dependent on the support of the entire community, whether by residents volunteering their time or simply spreading awareness about the program.

Dr. James Duderstadt was the president of the University of Michigan from 1998 to 1996. Courtesy: University of MichiganDr. James Duderstadt was the president of the University of Michigan from 1988 to 1996. He has served on and chaired numerous national academy and federal commissions including the National Science Board; the National Academies' Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy; the Dept. of Energy's Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee; and the National Science Foundation's Advisory Committee on Cyber infrastructure, and Intelligence Science Board.

- Joy Chang and Anisa Samarxhiu, digital project managers,
CFE Media, jchang@cfemedia.com and asamarxhiu@cfemedia.com

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