More than seventy attendees from materials science and engineering programs, national agencies and industry convened Penn State’s University Park campus from September 9-11, 2019. During the conference, presenters and attendees worked to answer questions related to the future of MatSE programs. Questions included:
- Will these dramatically high enrollment trends continue?
- Are we still serving our stakeholders in these times of large enrollments?
- Why is the enrollment of women and underrepresented populations lagging?
- Will industry continue to need larger numbers of MatSE students with bachelor's degrees?
- How will these trends impact graduate education?
The findings from the conference will be published in a future paper, but through the colaberation of attendees many answers were uncovered.
“Materials programs are on a path of sustainable and consistent growth,” said Sinnott. “We see materials science in almost every area and well-prepared students fill the increasing demand from industry, national laboratories and graduate programs. As a leader in undergraduate education, Penn State is heavily invested in material science and extremely supportive.”
The growth of MatSE programs across the nation has challenged institutions to do things differently. Whether it has been through retooling the curriculum, expanding hand-on research for undergraduates, or adding facilities, these changes have enabled programs to grow even more for the future.
To sustain growth and meet the needs of industry, national agencies and graduate schools, programs will have to continue to engage and recruit the next generation of materials scientists — especially women and underrepresented populations. The key will be to introduce middle school students, teachers and parents to the world of material science early on.
“We need to build the recruitment pipeline at a younger age and not have materials science be the major students find once they are at the University. We want students to come here because of our MatSE program,” said Kimel. “Our job is also to ensure student retention. Once they are MatSE students, we need to always be working on satisfying their needs to become successful.”
The conference also addressed the increasing need for programs to establish best practices for incorporating professional skills in existing courses. The skill set required for graduate succee at all levels goes beyond materials knowledge but also includes project management, knowing how to work in teams, and having practical experience.
One message was clear from the conference: materials science opportunities are booming at all levels. There are now more MatSE education options available for students across the country than ever before, and the demand for these students after they earn their degree is increasing every day.