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Grant will support Purdue's K-12 engineering education research efforts
Cynthia Sequin, Purdue University News Service
Posted on Thursday, March 2 2006

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- An alumnus's $1 million grant, renewable for up to four additional years, will expand the university's educational research efforts to foster an interest in science and engineering in K-12 classrooms.

The grant from Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. of San Francisco, who built one of the nation's leading engineering and construction firms, will support research and program development in Purdue's Department of Engineering Education. In addressing the objectives of this grant, the department will collaborate and partner with Purdue's Discovery Learning Center in Discovery Park and other academic units on campus to develop new approaches to learning and teaching.

A key component of the project is to help educators investigate how students learn and how to instill a desire in students to study engineering from elementary through high school. The goal is to then use this information to ultimately increase the numbers and diversity of students majoring in engineering disciplines at the university level.

"Just as we were challenged in the days after Sputnik, our nation is now called upon to improve the teaching of science and engineering and increase the number of students who are proficient in these disciplines," Purdue President Martin C. Jischke said. "America is at a turning point. Our future depends on inspiring and equipping our younger generations to maintain our country's leadership in a worldwide economy.

"Our alumni understand, and now one of them has stepped forward to help Purdue champion this effort."

As head of the Department of Engineering Education and a professor of agricultural and biological engineering, Kamyar Haghighi will direct these efforts.

The Bechtel grant will help Purdue:

Prepare and place engineering teachers in K-12 classrooms.

Conduct research to discover how people learn and get involved in math, science and engineering.

Provide in-service training for K-12 educators to increase classroom activities that build science, technology, engineering and math skills.

"This grant enables us to work on the foundational goal of re-engineering education for our young learners," Haghighi said. "It is Purdue's vision to help shape the national agenda and transform engineering education."

Bechtel earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1946 and an honorary doctorate in engineering in 1972. He serves as chairman emeritus of Bechtel Group Inc. in San Francisco, one of the nation's largest engineering and construction companies. He was named president of the company in 1960 and became chairman in 1973.

He served under presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford in six federal appointments and, in 1991, President George H.W. Bush presented him with the National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor for technical achievement.

Bechtel was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1975 and from 1982-86 served as its first chairman. He has received many awards in the field, including the Herbert Hoover Medal in 1980, both the 1982 Chairman's Medal and 1997 National Engineering Award from the American Association of Engineering Societies, and the Founders Award from the National Academy of Engineering.

"Engineering has been pivotal in shaping this nation's industrial capabilities and making us the world's premier economy," Bechtel said. "It is vital that we encourage students to take an interest in these fields at a young age. It will take educational projects, such as the one I am personally supporting at Purdue, to help keep America's technological edge sharp."

Purdue's Department of Engineering Education, established in 2004, was the first in the nation to focus on engineering education as a discipline. A year later, the department received approval to offer graduate degrees.

"Sparking interest in engineering among our country's K-12 students is crucial to the engineering profession," said Linda Katehi, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering. "This grant will help us focus on this challenge, and we know we can make a tremendous difference."


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