It is widely argued that enrollment in engineering in this country would be increased if K-12 students had a better and earlier understanding of what engineering is, what engineers do, and what career paths are available to engineering undergraduates. Enrollment would also increase if articulation between high schools, community colleges, and 4-year institutions could be streamlined. In the California Central Valley there is also a compelling need to improve availability and quality-of-instruction of courses that provide the foundation for matriculation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. A major and hidden barrier also results from the fact that even if a student has early exposure to the field of engineering, access to representative courses, and reasonable instructors and instruction, the abrupt shift from the high school or community college teaching/learning experience catches even the better students off guard to the extent that many struggle their first semester in this foreign territory and begin to consider other areas of study at the first signs of potential failure. These factors appear to be particularly troublesome in the California Central Valley.
CITRIS researchers have created an innovative teaching/learning facility for addressing these problems. The CITRIS Collaboratory is a distributed open source environment that supports teams of teachers and learners at distant locations in a seamless manner. Each Collaboratory is cost effective (approximately 30% of the cost of a typical computer lab) and energy efficient (consuming only 25% as much energy as other similar facilities). This network of interconnected Collaboratories provides an effective, flexible, and cost-effective distance teaching environment that facilitates interaction between students and faculty at all institutions. The network enables talented K-12 students from multiple remote sites to participate in the same UC engineering courses offered to UC students without leaving their campus. These students will thus be exposed to the challenges and rewards of a career in engineering much earlier in their academic careers, and they will be better prepared for success when they make the transition to a four-year institution.