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New 'Academic Redshirt' For Engineering Undergrads at UW 147

Posted by timothy
from the you-dub-not-you're-dumb dept.
vinces99 writes "Redshirting isn't just for athletes anymore. The University of Washington and Washington State University are collaborating on an 'academic redshirt' program that will bring dozens of low-income Washington state high school graduates to the two universities to study engineering in a five-year bachelor's program. The first year will help those incoming freshmen acclimate to university-level courses and workload and prepare to major in an engineering discipline."
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New 'Academic Redshirt' For Engineering Undergrads at UW

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  • by Kenja (541830) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @12:20PM (#43676009)
    I just picture some low income student showing up in a red shirt to a room full of grinning SOBs in yellow and blue.
    • by iluvcapra (782887) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @12:25PM (#43676079)

      Not the TVTropes Red Shirt*. The other kind.

      *by which we mean "Gold Jumpsuit" to those of us who hold to the TNG/DS9 Order of Things

      • Well, considering the pass rate through Freshman Calc in the Engineering/Science track was only ~60% when **I** was an undergrad in the early 1980s. . . Academic or not, they're Redshirts EITHER way. . . .
        • Ugh...the only two C's in my undergraduate career were in Engineering Math I & II. It was the damn proofs.

          //Paradoxically, I did well in Discrete Math and Coding Theory...
          • by siwelwerd (869956) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @01:06PM (#43676609)
            Funny, my math department has to offer dumbed down (i.e. remove most proofs) courses for the engineers, e.g. Matrix Analysis instead of Linear Algebra. Our engineers don't hardly have to know what a proof is.
            • by tyrione (134248)

              Funny, my math department has to offer dumbed down (i.e. remove most proofs) courses for the engineers, e.g. Matrix Analysis instead of Linear Algebra. Our engineers don't hardly have to know what a proof is.

              I'd question your University's quality of education.

              • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

                by Deadstick (535032)

                I'd question your University's quality of education.

                At least the English department...

            • by neurovish (315867)

              Why should they? Engineers are on the application side of things....they use the existing tools (equations) to build other things. They don't need to know exactly how the tools work as long as they can be trusted to work. The only courses I had that were proof intensive were on the more pure math side of things, linear algebra and number theory, that I took because they sounded interesting and useful. There were some proofs mentioned during lecture for the calc -> diff. eq. and a couple of numerical cour

              • by siwelwerd (869956) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @02:47PM (#43677921)

                Why should they? Engineers are on the application side of things....they use the existing tools (equations) to build other things. They don't need to know exactly how the tools work as long as they can be trusted to work.

                Teaching students how to do proofs teaches them an abstract way of thinking that is universally applicable to solving open ended problems--problems of the form "Here's point A. Point B is over there. How do we get there?". Not every engineer needs this kind of thinking, but some do, and the best will benefit from it. Some of the greatest engineering feats came from attacking these sorts of problems: "Here we are on Earth. There's the moon. Go put a man on it."

                If you just want to write iPhone apps, you can probably skip the good math classes, but if you want to really learn how to think, take as much as you can. Saying an engineer won't need these kinds of thinking skills because you don't have a specific application in mind for them is the same short-sighted thinking as saying we shouldn't fund basic research if we don't have a clear application in mind before the research is done.

                • Teaching students how to do proofs teaches them an abstract way of thinking that is universally applicable to solving open ended problems

                  You know what else teaches abstracting thinking and problem solving?

                  EVERY ENGINEERING COURSE. Seriously, you could point to any one of my engineering courses I took and argue that it helped develop abstract thought and made me better and solving open ended problems. Every god-damned one. Do you remember that engineering class that taught you rote memorization and how to solve problems, but only in this one specific way that was established in a prior class? NO, because they don't teach that class in enginee

                • by Obfuscant (592200)

                  Teaching students how to do proofs teaches them an abstract way of thinking that is universally applicable to solving open ended problems--problems of the form "Here's point A. Point B is over there. How do we get there?". Not every engineer needs this kind of thinking, but some do,...

                  Much more important is that they need to know how the tools WORK and not just what data goes in and comes out. If you don't know how the tools work and what their limiations are, then you can easily get garbage out because you've violated some of the assumptions made in that tool.

                  It's one thing to know the simplified equation for doing something, but much more important to know HOW it was simplified and WHAT was left out getting there. Oh, you want to deal with the specific thing that this equation ignore

              • by iluvcapra (782887)

                Engineers are on the application side of things....they use the existing tools (equations) to build other things. They don't need to know exactly how the tools work as long as they can be trusted to work.

                This presumption is probably what has created the Salem Effect [rationalwiki.org], whereby it's been observed that a lot of engineers are creationists.

                An understanding of pure science will tend to inform and contextualize such beliefs, while a focus on mere "operative" technology seems to encourage engineering types to eithe

              • If they know the equations by heart, and when not to use them, fine. That's more likely if they understand where the equations come from and why they're true. I've rederived formulas before, by knowing what underlies them.

      • by invid (163714)
        I've always wondered why they changed the color scheme from TOS. Was it because Patrick Stewart decided he looked better in red?
        • Someone finally figured out that outfitting your security personal in bright red was maybe no the best idea ever. At least that is what I figured for reasoning.
          • by Pope (17780)

            You'd think the Brits would've figured that out during the American Revolution.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why are they sending all these low-income youngsters to die at Uni?

      • by cayenne8 (626475)

        Why are they sending all these low-income youngsters to die at Uni?

        LOL...yeah, that was my first thought with the red shirt mention.

        But seriously, isn't this just another euphemism for trying to get more under-qualified students into college? Will this displace other students that worked hard during school, and are more academically qualified for these spots?

        • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @12:45PM (#43676357) Journal

          I suspect that it depends on what you mean by 'under-qualified'.

          Given that it is a specially designed, five-year, program, with the first year for remedial purposes, it obviously isn't targeting people with good high school educations.

          However, such a program(with its willingness to accept students who went to shitty high schools) would presumably be very well placed to have its pick of talented students whose high schools sucked.

          It remains to be seen if they will adopt sufficiently well refined selection criteria; but given the state of a nontrivial number of high schools, there should be plenty of people out there who aren't nearly prepared for a real college; but who have considerable aptitude.

          • by cayenne8 (626475)

            Given that it is a specially designed, five-year, program, with the first year for remedial purposes, it obviously isn't targeting people with good high school educations.

            While this sounds quite nice and humane....

            My question is, will these people be taking up spots in college that could be readily filled by already qualified students trying to get in??

            Is it fair to displace people already qualified to go that school in order to just grasp at those who had bad luck or for whatever other reason were deal

            • What makes these people more deserving ? Let's say a good high school school sends 100 students to a university and a really bad one sends 5. Who would you rather have - student 101 from the top high school or the 6th best student from the other ? I'd say it shows a lot more talent to be the top of your class in bad circumstances than to be in the middle of the pack when you've got everything going for you.
              • by cayenne8 (626475)

                Let's say a good high school school sends 100 students to a university and a really bad one sends 5. Who would you rather have - student 101 from the top high school or the 6th best student from the other ?

                That's easy.

                Pick the one that best qualifies (SAT scores, academic record, best answer on the essay parts of the application, etc).

                Use the metrics that you'd use to accept ANY student...the most qualified gets in no matter which school they came from.

                • The problem is, we don't have good metrics for selecting students. If we did, university admittance would be much easier. We've found that there is very little correlation between students results in their last year at school and their final mark. We have a lot of data at Cambridge because each college has different admittance criteria: none of them consistently manages to pick the best students.
            • by fche (36607)

              Come on, that ways likes heretical thinking about the wisdom of affirmative action of any kind.

              • by cayenne8 (626475)

                Come on, that ways likes heretical thinking about the wisdom of affirmative action of any kind.

                Personally? I think we've reached the place in time, to do totally away with any type of affirmative action. No quotas for anything anymore. Everyone on their merit.

                I think the goal for many is to have a color blind world. Well, let's start with being color/sex blind on picking anyone for anything.

            • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @01:49PM (#43677185) Journal

              It's hard to say, from the data I have, whether this is some sort of 'equity' thing, or whether it's a strategic choice to gain access to a more talented student body than they would otherwise be able to attract. Consider the analogy of on the job training and applicant experience: Somebody who went to a crap high school is essentially an inexperienced 'hire'. Somebody who went to a good or excellent one has more relevant experience. Would a company ever consider hiring the less experienced one? Sure, if he were cheaper, or seemed smarter, or both, and they were willing to invest upfront to get what they expected to be a better employee. Would they ever consider hiring the more experienced one? Obviously, he's presumably closer to being up to speed, and his performance more predictable based on past experience.

              University of Washington, per US News, is modestly selective, 58.4% of applicants admitted. Washington State is less selective, 82.5% acceptance. Few schools play in the single-digit-acceptance leagues; but neither figure, especially Washington State, is suggestive of a school that has its pick of whatever students it wants. Hard to say without more data; but it's certainly within the realm of plausible that they suspect the existence of students who are just plain sharper than some of the ones it currently has; but which it can access because competing schools aren't interested in doing the remedial work.

              (Presumably, it also comes down to your position on the relative worth of preparation vs. raw talent. If you suspect much of high school of being dubiously useful babysitting, of only limited relevance to your curriculum, you are really only treating it as a signalling mechanism for talent. If you think it is of considerable use, then you are making a much greater sacrifice in taking on people whose high school years are shot.)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    College administrator #1: How can we get 5 years of tuition payments from students in exchange for a 4 year degree?
    College administrator #2: How about making them stay longer? We can call it 'academic redshirt.' By likening it to something we do for athletes, it'll make it much more saleable!
    College administrator #1: Fucking brilliant! Here, have a raise! You've earned it!
  • by stevegee58 (1179505) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @12:29PM (#43676143) Journal
    Weren't Red Shirts the Enterprise crew members that were always killed within 60 seconds of their appearance?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 09, 2013 @12:29PM (#43676145)

    An athletic "redshirt" means you get to practice with the team but you're not allowed to compete, and it doesn't count as a year of eligibility.

    Are they saying that you get to audit all of your classes as a freshman and then take them for real the next year? If not, then they're probably misusing the term redshirt. If so, then it's "welcome to whose degree is it anyway? the major where everything is made up and the grades don't matter"

    • Grades shouldn't matter, if the real goal is knowledge.
      • Knowledge means nothing if you can't apply it or measure it. Since they are "low income", I would think the true goal is not being "low income". Who is going to hire someone who didn't get good grades but assures you they know a lot? What I worry more about is that they will dumb down the curriculum so they get a high pass rate and everyone has a feel good moment. Until the newly trained "engineers" can't hack it in the working world. As a general rule, if you give someone something, they won't put as much
    • by billstewart (78916) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @12:39PM (#43676293) Journal

      Thanks for the explanation; many of us here only know the Star Trek definition of red shirt :-)

    • Sounds pretty accurate to me...

      "low income"/"under privlaged"/"didn't bother to pay attention in HS" student pays for a years worth of classes that dont go on their record so they can be up to the level they should be to enter college.

      colleges yet again, lowering their standards.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @12:32PM (#43676195)

    Did the PR flack check who reads SlashDot before they posted something about "red shirts?" I'll bet we have more people who care about the Bajorans than the Trojans here...

  • Some advice (Score:4, Funny)

    by CCarrot (1562079) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @12:37PM (#43676259)

    Just a word of advice to these engineering redshirts; stay well away from the laser lab...and the biology lab, for that matter.

    Really, just don't go there. In fact, try to stay out of those buildings altogether...and make sure everyone knows your last name. :p

  • Good idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by siwelwerd (869956) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @12:48PM (#43676379)

    Sounds like a good idea to me. I work at a large flagship state school, and we see a number of underprepared students admitted. The problem is not so much that we can't teach them what they need to catch up, it's that they are given unrealistic expectations. The College of Arts and Sciences is making a big push to have everyone finish in 4 years, but this is very unrealistic for these underprepared students. A program where everyone expects them to take an extra year would reset the expectations to a realistic level and, in my opinion, probably improve performance.

    By the way, "underprepared" often includes students who have, for example, passed pre-calculus, but did not learn the material and thus struggle when I see them in calculus. It's well established that the best predictor of success in calculus is algebra/pre-calculus skills, so giving them a chance to sharpen these skills with less time pressure would be beneficial to the student.

    • by mjr167 (2477430)

      Alternately, why don't we teach the kids in high school the things they need to learn in high school so they aren't playing catch up when they go to college?

      If the skills are valuable, why do we keep pushing them further down the line? If each grade level / course is expected to impart a certain level of proficiency on the students, why do we pass them if they are not proficient? If you passed pre-calc, you should have some level of proficiency with the material. Otherwise, why did you bother? What is t

      • by qvatch (576224)
        it depends what you call passed. 50%, 65%, 80% (here, that's the min undergrad, honours, grad grade to "pass"). Passing means you know enough to do that material, not that you understand it well enough to apply it without effort while learning the next level, so if you stopped there you could be considered to know the material.
      • Re:Good idea (Score:4, Informative)

        by siwelwerd (869956) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @01:45PM (#43677133)

        Alternately, why don't we teach the kids in high school the things they need to learn in high school so they aren't playing catch up when they go to college?

        Nobody is arguing that we shouldn't try and prepare everyone well before they get to college, but the simple fact is that we (at the universities) get these underprepared students every year, and that is unlikely to change soon. Rather than just throw blame at others and tell them to fix it, this is a proactive approach: what can *we* (at the universities) do about this problem? We'll all be ecstatic when K-12 education improves to make this a moot point, but until then we shouldn't just ignore the problem.

        • by mjr167 (2477430)

          However, if the universities keep lowering the bar for entry and saying "well this sucks but I guess it's what we have to work with", the high schools will keep lowering their standards. You are settling for sub-par students and hoping that the problem will fix itself magically while all the time the high schools are saying "Hey, we don't need to put all this effort into preparing kids for college because the universities will take them no matter how little they actually know."

          People are lazy. They aren't

          • by siwelwerd (869956)

            I tend to agree with you. But as a faculty member, I don't get any say in what goes on in K-12, or which students are admitted to college. All I get a say in is what to do with the students that do show up on campus. And this kind of program seems like something faculty members can do to better educate those students we do get.

            I do agree, we need to bring the K-12 standards up, but that's a political game that has to be solved in a way approved by the teachers' unions and the state legislatures. At lea

            • by Obfuscant (592200)

              At least at universities, we are more (but not completely) immune to the whims of politicians.

              Why do you think you are being forced to take these less educated students? Because the parents tell their politicians that they want Johnny to go to college even if he isn't well prepared by the high schools. The Uni presidents are playing a political game trying to build larger Universities with more prestige and more taxpayer funding, and anything that reduces the number of in-state bodies they accept cuts that funding/prestige/etc. Politicians tell the parents that they are concerned about getting John

          • we also need more trades / tech schools not all people do good in a university setting and more some stuff 4+ years pure class room is to much.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Honestly, that's the point of a community college... not the point of a university. If students are not prepared for the rigor of an undergraduate in engineering or science, then they should take a year or two to take basic classes at the local community college until they are ready. They should not be lowering the level of classes, or taking away time from professors to support these classes.

  • pfffttt..... Starfleet Academy has been doing this since forever.
  • One of the things this might do is increase the completion rate of the engineering courses without having to dumb down instruction.

    Back when I was in college (measured in geological time units,) I started off in chemical engineering due to a fascination with engineering and a good prep in chemistry. What I didn't have was (and still is) a good math background. I know people who "get" math learn it differently from the rote memorization method taught in most schools, and this makes it make more sense. I was

    • by timeOday (582209)

      It's awful that universities have to do a "remedial year" to fix shortcomings in K-12

      "Awful" is a strong word. In the past these students would have become blue-collar workers and never learned the material at all. Now that path is largely gone, so we're trying to help more people reach higher. (This is not just a glass-half-empty philosophical distinction; the percentage of students who enter college has gone way up in the last century including the last 20 years.)

    • You understand arithmetic?

      Math builds, identify the earliest math course you didn't understand. Study that. If you don't understand the basics all you can do is attempt to pass by memorize and regurgitate. The one you want is likely a year before the one where you started to feel like all you could do was memorize.

  • A Slashdot article with the term "redshirt" in the title, and absolutely no references to Star Trek?

    Man, maybe the pessimists are right, perhaps /. really is on the decline...

  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @12:55PM (#43676459) Homepage
    The away team will consist of myself, Commander Spock, Doctor McCoy, and Ensign Ricky.
  • I love how that they insinuate that only students from low income families come unprepared for engineering studies. Yes I realize that the odds are true that it is the case but just because you go to a well funded school doesn't mean that you have good teachers or that the student is mature enough to do well in the university setting.

    • by pla (258480)
      I love how that they insinuate that only students from low income families come unprepared for engineering studies.

      If you come from a middle (or upper) class family and plan to attend college, you take college prep courses that (at least try to) prepare you for college. Yes, you very much still have people who don't "get" math, but an extra year of paying college tuition for remedial classes won't change that fact.

      So realistically, low income people count as the only ones this sort of program would he
  • by CosaNostra Pizza Inc (1299163) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @01:12PM (#43676699)
    Aren't the red shirts the ones who always die first?
  • why would anyone want to be a redshirt they are always the first one to die on any away mission, and cant shoot a phaser worth crap. I'd much rather be a yellow or blue.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This sounds more like a cash grab to me. Nobody makes it through UW or WSU engineering programs in only 4 years, even under normal conditions.

  • Thank you for your cooperation.

  • by uvajed_ekil (914487) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @02:13PM (#43677521)
    So they turned a 4-year program into a 5-year program, with all 5 years at full price, I presume. If you need a year to acclimate freshmen, you either aren't doing it right, or you have the wrong students. Are the low-income target students dumber than high-income students? God help the low-income students when they leave school not only with bigger loans than their classmates, but now also an extra year's worth of debt.
  • by DarthVain (724186) on Thursday May 09, 2013 @02:51PM (#43677961)

    is just blatantly saying that the poor are expendable now?

  • They're talking about added funding from outside the UW and WSU for additional positions.

    Which, to be frank, we've heard lots of promises about added faculty and added undergrad positions, but this is the first real addition I've seen that wasn't just a promise but was funded.

    Glad they're doing it.

  • Lots of high school students are absolutely unprepared for the rigors of college study (I was one myself) coupled with a level of independence that tests the responsibility of young people. High school is simply so dumbed down college academics can be a large jump regardless of how well you did before. I see that other posters look at it as a money grab, but so long as it doesn't become financially exploitative this will produce positive results for students from *all* spheres.

    • by Obfuscant (592200)

      High school is simply so dumbed down college academics can be a large jump regardless of how well you did before.

      Fix the high schools. That's where the problem is.

      but so long as it doesn't become financially exploitative this will produce positive results for students from *all* spheres.

      You don't see taking money from people for a year's worth of education (at college) that they should have gotten for free (as part of high school) as being "financially exploitative?"

  • When I was at UW in the early seventies they had the same sort of "5 year bachelor's" for "disadvantaged" students who got a free ride. I'm sure some of them made out okay, but they had a reputation for smoking dope in class. You can lead a horse to water, but....

    • My first year was 2000. I was not made aware of this program then, despite being considered a minority because I was so poor.
  • This is awesome. I went to the UW and I came from a very poor, under-taught school out in the sticks and from a family well below the poverty line. My intention was to be a computer science major, but I wasn't even fully prepared for pre-calc. As a result, I took a huge hit on math early on and it kind of sank my dreams. Luckily, I was able to get into another great major (Informatics) which wasn't quite as math heavy and still ended up in the profession I wanted doing quite well.

    If I had this program

  • (Sarcasm on) a university would have to give a shit about their undergrads? Why they might put you away for crazy talk like that. (Sarcasm off) Sorry I'm pretty jaded from my university which made it plainly obvious they were a research institute first and foremost.

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