Verizon hosts "Engineers Week Kickoff" at Rutgers

<p><strong>Colette Hazen, director of the Verizon Network Operations Center, Beth Drohan, vice president for National Network Operations and Thomas Farris, dean of Rutgers’ School of Engineering, share a conversation at the National Engineering Week kickoff event Feb. 23 at the Busch Student Center. </strong>COURTESY OF MALCOLM BROWN</p>

Colette Hazen, director of the Verizon Network Operations Center, Beth Drohan, vice president for National Network Operations and Thomas Farris, dean of Rutgers’ School of Engineering, share a conversation at the National Engineering Week kickoff event Feb. 23 at the Busch Student Center. COURTESY OF MALCOLM BROWN

Middle school students raced water-powered cars and built circuits Monday as part of the Engineers Week kickoff event, an event co-hosted by Rutgers and Verizon.

National Engineers Week is an annual series of events geared toward celebrating the accomplishments of engineers. Verizon hosted the first event at the University where children learned applications to basic mathematics and science lessons while surrounded by actual engineers and engineering students.

Teaching children basic science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) principles would help keep them from being intimidated by them later, Beth Drohan, vice president for National Network Operations, said.

“The STEM subjects are really critical because when we look out to the future,” she said, “We’re going to need more and more people working in these subjects and these disciplines to be successful ... The future is about (innovation).”

The events for the middle school students were designed to intrigue them, she said. The goal is to convince students to continue studying science or math-related fields over the next few years.

Students should not be deterred by difficult science or mathematics courses during their time at school, Drohan said.

It is unclear how much this event would influence seventh and eighth graders, she said. The hope is that planting the ideas behind engineering in student minds would lead to them choosing a related field in college.

Even reaching only two or three out of the more than 60 students who attended would be a success, Colette Hazen, director of the Verizon Network Operations Center, said.

“We need to build the future,” Drohan said. “You have to take time out and say ‘Hey, what’s the path five, 10 years from now,’ and you have to build the future for that.”

The students in attendance were all part of New Brunswick Middle School’s “Advancement Via Individual Determination” (AVID) program, Yolande Pastrana, program coordinator, said.

Members of the AVID program are middle school students who want to become first-generation college students, she said. The program provides mentors who help them learn and apply their lessons in school.

Several of these mentors are University students who volunteer their time at NBMS, she said. She said she was excitied to see they were able to attend the kickoff event at the University.

“These are students that are focused on wanting to attend college and now they get to come to a real university, Rutgers, and actually have fun working on projects, working collaboratively,” she said. “(They learn principles such as) teamwork, which is all important in the world of work.”

This year was the first time Verizon brought students to a university campus, Andrew Allen, director of the Verizon Network Repair Bureau, said.

Typically for Engineers Week, students are brought to the company’s facilities for a tour. This year, students were able to see an actual campus as well as engage with college students, Allen said.

Many of the volunteers were alumni from the University, he said.

Connecting to younger students was important, Hazen said.

“What we hope for the outcome is that students see the connection between what they’re learning in school, math, science, programming and the world of work,” Pastrana said.

Making sure the students remained engaged through the event was an important factor, Hazen said. Volunteers explained the four different kits that were available, each of which used a different engineering principle.

“We didn’t have this kind of support at a younger age (with) understanding what’s out there with disciplines,” Hazen, a School of Engineering alumna, said. “We really try to inspire (students) to pursue something in STEM.”

Ellen Yu, a member of Verizon’s Communications Department, said it was important to help these children, since many were from underserved communities.

Programs like the one Verizon help run provide students with an edge they might otherwise not have, she said.

University students were given the opportunity to network with Verizon representatives during the event as well, Hazen said.

Recruiters took resumes and answered questions about working at Verizon, Allen said. They wanted to provide undergraduate and graduate students a chance to learn more about the company.

Engineering students have many opportunities to succeed, he said. Manufacturing jobs are returning to the nation while technology continues to advance.

This creates a lot of potential for people interested in pursuing this field, he said.

Within a decade, about 80 percent of jobs in any industry would require STEM-related skills, Hazen said. Students should keep their eyes on that target as they work towards graduation.

Asking questions and meeting people are likewise important for students going through college, she said. Networking would help all students through a difficult curriculum.

“The hard work and the many late nights studying are going to be worth it at the end of the day,” Hazen said.

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