Summer program for teens seeks the next great engineers - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Summer program for teens seeks the next great engineers

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According to the National Science Foundation, less than 5 percent of undergrads leave school with a degree in engineering. Here in South Carolina, industry experts say that number is too small to meet a growing demand.

You won't find many 15-year-olds willingly confined to a classroom setting in the middle of July.

"They're probably at the beach having fun," said Raveen Jayasinghe.

But Jayasinghe is willing. He's one of 55 high school students chosen from across the state to participate in a new virtual engineering jump start program.

"By the time our kids step foot on a college campus, they're going to be some of the brightest engineering kids there are," said program director Ted Lee.

The program starts with a week of building projects and learning the finer points of team work.

"That's what the kids are realizing now, "said Lee. "I have to take these eight different personalities and get them to mesh together as a team and create a product out of that."

After this intensive week, the students continue their learning through virtual classes, five days a week, for the next three years.

"It's more like having a job and preparing you instead of just sitting in class and being graded on what you've done," said student Emily Weick.

If the students make it through, the payoff could be big.

"The universities are producing around 800-1000 engineering graduates a year, but it's still not enough," said Lee. "There's a lot of new industry being produced in the state and so the need is only going to grow."

Starting salaries can be as high as six figures for many engineers, and the goal of the program is to keep them in South Carolina.

And who knows? The Palmetto State could keep kids like Jayasinghe right here.

"I'm really hoping to find a great job here in South Carolina, since I've known this place my whole life," said Jayasinghe.

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