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Local News

Colleges works to attract students to science, tech fields

JOLIET – Joliet Junior College freshman Trevor Bandauski talked with officials from several universities Tuesday to see how he could join a four-year information technology security or network engineering program.

“I’m trying to find a school that has the program that I’m interested in,” Bandauski said. His goal is to work in cyber-security.

Bandauski stopped by booths for Governors State University, University of Illinois and University of St. Francis at the second annual JJC STEM Transfer Fair, which featured 13 other four-year institutions showcasing their science, technology, engineering and math majors.

The event was organized by the JJC Technical Department.

“We want to show students options for possible career advancement,” Technical Department Chair Greg Pakieser said. An associates degree may bring a job, Pakieser said, but a four-year degree could raise the ceiling of what students can accomplish.

“We’re also introducing people who are not into STEM, too,” he said. For instance, the college lets students try out a virtual welder machine used in introductory welding classes, as well as diagnostic automotive equipment.

According to National Science Foundation statistics, the number of people graduating with a STEM degree from colleges in China far surpasses the United States: 300,000 graduates per year compared with about 170,000 graduates, respectively.

China’s STEM degrees also comprise a greater proportion of bachelor degrees than in the United States. Chinese engineering degrees represent 30 percent of all degrees awarded, while only 5 percent of U.S. graduates get a degree in the field.

Except for a surge in computer science degrees from 2003 to 2005, the ratio of STEM degrees have remained constant since 1991, even as companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft have become household names.

Pakieser said with so many people retiring in the STEM fields from the first computer and Internet boom, the field is in need of graduates.

“We all see science, math and technology all the time in the things we do,” he said. “Sometimes we just don’t identify it yet. That’s where things are headed.”

College officials said they’re telling students about the need and value of a STEM degree.

“Half the students that come to us here are still trying to decide what they want to do,” said Thomas Glenn, associate director of admissions for Eastern Illinois University.

Glenn also noticed students tend to want to stay closer to home than in previous years.

“A lot of students want to stay at home. But the world has gotten small. We try to show them there are more opportunities to fill the growing STEM fields,” he said.

Lewis University Assistant Director of Transfer Admission Julie Branchaw said interest in STEM fields isn’t necessarily increasing, but students are becoming more focused in careers than in previous years.

“They’re more career-oriented than subject-oriented,” Branchaw said, alluding to students like Bandauski, who doesn’t just want to be an engineer, but a cyber-security expert.

“We need more people interested in STEM,” Bandauski said. “I’ve been doing it my entire life ... I have friends who don’t know what they want to do.”

IF YOU GO
What: Fall 2014 Annual College Fair
What: More than 100 colleges and universities will attend to show what they offer
When: 5:30 - 8 p.m. Oct. 7
Where: Joliet Junior College, 1215 Houbolt Road; Entrance at A, U or T buildings
Who: For high school students and prospective transfers

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