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Mizzou powers up the electrical and computer science fields

Shown chatting at the Freshman Interest Group (FIG) barbecue lunch on Aug. 22 are freshmen Emily Boehm, Lauren Himmelberg, Ashley Apple, Michelle Hammann and Lauren Graessle. The FIG program aims to improve student retention, as will the new electrical and computer engineering scholarship program.

Mizzou Engineering plans to power up the electrical and computer science workforce by financially backing students pursuing those fields.

With the aid of a National Science Foundation grant totaling nearly $520,000, Mizzou’s electrical and computer engineering department will launch a scholarship program next fall that aims to encourage student enrollment and retention. Awardees will receive two-year scholarships based on academic merit and need, as well as faculty and peer mentoring, said Gregory Triplett, an electrical and computer engineering assistant professor who is the grant’s principal investigator.

“It is critically important to produce more electrical and computer engineers, who will have a significant impact on emerging technical challenges,” Triplett said.

The retention program, called Increasing Retention for Electrical and Computer Engineers (IncREaCE), will offer two-year scholarships to at least 24 freshmen over a three-year period. Program plans call for targeting women and students from groups under-represented in engineering for the scholarships, which will require that recipients meet citizenship, enrollment, academic and financial need criteria.

Triplett hopes the program will bring the retention rate of electrical and computer undergraduate students between their freshman and junior years to more than 90 percent. That rate has been as low as 60 percent in recent years, and was about 78 percent in 2005, he said.

Such figures reflect a nationwide decline in electrical and computer engineering student enrollment. Undergraduate enrollment in those areas bucked general engineering enrollment trends by declining 14.7 percent between 2004 and 2007, said Michael Gibbons, director of data research for the American Society for Engineering Education.

“Everything else is going up, while this is going down,” Gibbons said.

Technological advances in the meantime have strengthened demand for electrical engineers. While government and industry opinions vary on the strength of market demand for American electrical engineers—due to a trend toward exporting some engineering jobs to other countries in order to lower costs—the field continues to grow, Gibbons said.

Indeed, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), an international technology organization, recently reported in its flagship publication that the salaries employers are paying electrical engineers are on the rise.

That comes as no surprise to Triplett, who points to the role electrical and computer engineers play in energy, power efficiency, communications and other disciplines that affect core U.S. interests.

“The ability to attract and retain prospective engineering students has become a much larger concern that impacts U.S. global competitiveness, educational technological infrastructure, workforce diversity, and homeland security issues, to name a few,” Triplett said.

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