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Program aims to engineer future of minority students


Students from 14 area high schools knew something serious was going on when Jacqueline Frierson told them to remove their hats and chewing gum.

"If I hurt your feelings or step on your toes -- good. It'll make you think, and we have to be a thinking people," said the doctoral student from Morgan State University, currently interning at Westinghouse Electric Corp.

The audience of 40 students listened attentively as Frierson and Jonathan Oliver, a former engineering student at Anne Arundel Community College, spoke during the conclusion of a three-day Minority Orientation to Engineering and Technologies Career Opportunities Upreach program yesterday.

The 5-year-old program, sponsored by AACC's engineering and technologies division, was designed to introduce minority students to engineering careers and assess their interest and potential for success.

Frierson, who spends the school year as the social studies department head at William H. Lemmel Middle School in Baltimore, said the students should be commended for giving up part of their summer to prepare for their future.

"I see some rough edges, but at least they are presenting themselves for polishing," she said.

Will Mumford, chairman of the division, invited Frierson and Oliver to participate on a panel to further the youngsters' orientation to engineering and the life that comes with it.

Oliver told a story with a sad beginning but a successful ending.

He said his interest in aircraft led him to engineering, but "when I stopped focusing on my schoolwork, I lost all of my financial aid and scholarships from Penn State University. I was lucky to have an affordable two-year school such as AACC right here at home."

Oliver graduated from the community college in 1990 and last month from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., one of the premier engineering institutions in the nation, with a degree in aeronautical engineering.

Mumford, the program's coordinator, said engineering is an excellent career field, even during a recession.

"Minority students are in bigger demand. Companies are looking for them," he said.

Mumford said the program helps minority students early on to explore engineering and technical careers.

The students spent three hours a day learning about college engineering programs, their costs and financial aid. They also had hands-on experience in AACC's electronics lab and used computer-aided design (CADD) machines to help them build circuits.

The students competed Tuesday in a space tower contest. The object was for one of the six teams to build the highest tower possible out of straws and straight pins. The tower had to support a tennis ball for at least one minute.

All of the teams' towers supported the tennis ball, but Emmanuel Uche's team built a 34-inch giant that towered over the second highest by 15 inches.

Uche, a junior at North County High School, said the contest was easy.

"We just went and did it. We made it as strong as possible, added a lot of weight to it and attached all the loose ends," he said.

He said the program increased his interest in engineering.

"Since I was little, I was into fixing things. One time, I asked my father what people who fix things were called, and he said an engineer. Since then, I wanted to be a civil engineer."

However, after learning his starting salary would be about $10,000 more as a chemical engineer, he modified his goal.

"But I will still use all I learn over here and take it to help my country," said Uche, who is from Nigeria.

The probability of students in the program actually going into engineering is very high, Mumford said. According to surveys he received from previous program participants, about 70 percent of them have entered engineering-related fields, he said.

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