Community Colleges - A Vital Link for Engineers

"We had a lot of people coming in and getting a degree at 25, 30, and 40 years old. I think that speaks to the access that a community college gives, and the fact that they reward a lot of financial aid."
Community Colleges - A Vital Link for Engineers

This article is from SWE Magazine’s 2018 winter issue. You can access the issue on your mobile device by downloading our app on iTunes or Google PlayClick here to view on a desktop or laptop. 

Community Colleges - A Vital Link for Engineers
Aaron LaDue, with the J. Harold Lampe Award

Aaron LaDue received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering last year from Old Dominion University (ODU), after first earning an associate’s degree, and while working 60 hours a week as a construction foreman. He minored in engineering management. The 32-year-old from Adams, New York, is now pursuing his master’s degree in civil engineering with a concentration in structural engineering. He will earn the master’s in May 2018.

“It wasn’t my intention to continue past my associate’s [degree],” said LaDue, who received the Norfolk, Virginia, university’s J. Harold Lampe Award for most outstanding engineering student, and the faculty award for most distinguished student in engineering. “I just seized the opportunity,” he said.

That opportunity was possible, in part, because the state of Virginia offers a guaranteed admissions program that lets community-college students transfer to participating four-year colleges or universities, as long as they have a minimum-required GPA in certain majors. LaDue earned a 3.98 GPA on a 4.0 scale at John Tyler Community College in Chester, Virginia.

He also realized he would need a bachelor’s degree after he worked a second job as a draftsman while at the community college — and saw what a big pay cut it would have been had he left his construction job. The draftsman’s job paid $40,000 a year before deductions, while the construction job paid as high as $90,000 a year.

After doing some research, LaDue realized that structural engineering employers sought hires with master’s degrees. A five-year bachelor’s-to-master’s degree program at ODU allowed him to take that next leap and earn 27 of the 30 necessary credits for his master’s just six months after he received his bachelor’s degree.

Community Colleges - A Vital Link for Engineers
Zachary Campbell, right, consults with a classmate.

Zachary Campbell, another ODU student who leveraged the guaranteed admissions program, says he appreciated the smaller classes and greater diversity of students at his community college, Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg.

The average class size varied from 35 to 40 at the community college, and the classes were diverse in terms of students’ ages, races, and backgrounds, said Campbell, a 21-year-old senior at ODU majoring in mechanical engineering with a concentration in aerospace engineering and a minor in engineering management, who aims to attend graduate school in the fall to study aerospace engineering.

“We had a lot of people coming in and getting a degree at 25, 30, and 40 years old,” he said. “I think that speaks to the access that a community college gives, and the fact that they reward a lot of financial aid and a lot of students qualify for PELL grants. Plus, he added, “The Virginia community college system touts that no person is more than 30 miles from a community college.”

Community College Students and STEM Education

Community college students are often excluded from conversations surrounding broadening participation in STEM, particularly in the fields of engineering and computer science (ECS). The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) conducted a study of ECS transfer students in Texas to understand the success of women and minority students on this pathway towards a baccalaureate degree. The findings suggest that greater attention to this pathway could make a significant impact on our ability to diversify the engineering profession.

Access the full report on SWE's Research site.

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