by Sarah Craighead Dedmon
Emma Rogers was in high school when the University of Maine started looking at ways to attract students into the field of engineering. By the time she was ready to apply to college, the new Engineering Pathways program looked like a perfect fit.
“When I realized that the Engineering Pathways program existed, that’s when I really wanted to get into the University of Maine at Machias so I could do it and still be close to home,” said Rogers, a UMM freshman from Mt. Desert Island who had spent summers with family in Machias.
Engineering Pathways was developed to make it easy for students with an interest in engineering to get their feet wet at a smaller, local campus, then transfer to the University of Southern Maine or the University of Maine in Orono to complete their degree.
“The big problem we’re trying to solve is that Maine needs more engineers. We are not producing enough,” said UM College of Engineering Dean Dana Humphrey.
Though the engineer shortage is a nationwide phenomena, Humphrey said it’s particularly acute in Maine, due in part to our top-heavy age pyramid.
“Twenty-seven percent of engineers working in Maine right now are 55 or older,” said Humphrey. “Someone like Emma is going to get in at exactly the right point in time, when these folks are retiring.”
Engineering Pathways is called a 1+3 program, which means students spend one year at a participating partner campus, then the remaining three at USM or UM. The two schools offer 11 different engineering degrees between them. Four partner campuses are participating in the program’s first year, including Machias, Augusta, Presque Isle and Farmington, with a total of 15 students enrolled this semester. Rogers is one of five students enrolled in the program at UMM.
“This is important for Maine because every engineer working in Maine contributes $500,000 to Maine’s gross domestic product,” said Humphrey. “That’s important for all of us.”
During their first year every enrolled student takes the same course, Introduction to Engineering, which is taught by Augusta professor Dr. Lester French via simulcast. If students are not ready to drop directly into calculus when they enter the university system, they can spend an additional year completing prerequisites before moving on to the three-year portion of their degree. This is what Rogers will do as she catches up on her math credits.
“That’s why I think it’s a cool program. I know a lot of students like myself who have just sort of wandered away from math and science,” she said. “I didn’t really have time to pursue it in high school.”
Rogers is also an artist, and for a long time considered getting a degree in fine arts. In the end her love of science led her to UMM.
“My father is a computer software engineer and my whole life I've wanted to get into some science-related field, because that’s what I grew up around,” she said.
Humphrey said that more than 1,400 engineering job openings are posted each year in Maine. Though every kind of engineer — mechanical, civil, chemical — is in demand, the field with the most openings in Maine is electrical engineering. But students pursuing engineering aren’t directed to one major or another.
A lifelong engineer himself, Humphrey is enthusiastic about showing young people what an exciting career choice engineering can be. To that end he personally leads prospective student tours each Friday in Orono.
“We are trying to give more students the opportunity to begin their engineering education, to find out how fun engineering is,” said Humphrey. “We really want students to find their way, which major they like best.”