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UT wins nearly $1 million grant to help meet need for engineers in high demand

The National Science Foundation funds a future for low income engineering hopefuls.

TOLEDO, Ohio — The world around us is changing rapidly and dramatically, as we enter an new era of driverless cars, robotics, 3-D printing and artificial intelligence.  And almost all of these technological changes have one thing in common.


"If we look at everything that's going on, science is really the core, the cornerstone." Those are the words of Dr. Robin Wright of the National Science Foundation, who was in Toledo on Tuesday to announce the award of nearly $1 million in NSF grant money to the University of Toledo.  

The new grant is designed to help the university recruit more students into the field of science and engineering, with a special emphasis on diversity and low income students.

The award was officially unveiled in a special presentation at the Toledo Technology Academy, a specialty high school run by Toledo Public Schools, which provides students with the basics of technology and engineering. 

It is hoped that grant money will help some of the students who may need more mentoring and financial assistance so they can find a pathway to college.

Dr. Mike Toole, the dean of Engineering at the University of Toledo who was part of the panel, talked to the TTA students about the need to move away from the old stereotypes and preconceptions of the white male, pocket-protector-wearing, nerdy engineer.

"There are people who are very talented, but they couldn't walk the right pathway to get there. Now we are saying, we are taking you, where you are from," he said.  That means more diversity and inclusion of groups that have been traditionally left out of the engineering ranks. "We recognize it's been frankly too narrow, too male and too white, we need more diversity in our field," Dr. Toole said.

UT Engineering Professor Dr. Leslie Brehan also talked to students and faculty at TTA.  She was instrumental is securing the lucrative grant from the NSF.

"It's almost like a pre-engineering program that really gets them ready for success as they transfer to the college of engineering," she said. 

Brehan said the program will provide more than money and scholarships, as it will also provide mentoring and resources for students who need help with advanced math or other challenging subjects.

Toledo Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur led the discussion as she spoke of the changing job environment and the need for new jobs of the future. Joining her in that theme was the NSF's Dr. Wright, who oversees these types of programs for students who want to enter the field of science  and technology.  

Dr. Wright herself said she she came from a low income background and understands how difficult and intimidating it can be for those who think they can never afford to go to college. 

Dr. Wright believes that these scholarships are critical in bringing talented young people onto the world of science because the need is so great.  

"Just to keep up, we have to have young people who are going to be the innovators of tomorrow, to be think about what it is that needs to happen to feed people or keep water safe," she said. "We need engineers more than ever before."

The money from the five-year grant will start flowing after Jan. 1 and will support scholarships for as many as 40 young students who are talented in engineering and science who have financial needs.

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