No Longer Making the Connection


The UNF School of Engineering’s outreach program has been working within the community to promote the significance of the engineering profession since 2005. Now, with the resignation of its only director, Jean Fryman, Make the Connection: K-12 Outreach may be drawing to a close.

“With the downed economy severely affecting the engineering community, my husband, an engineer, and I feel that my talents would be better utilized somewhere in a full-time capacity,” Fryman said.

Serving Kindergarten through 12th grade, UNF’s Make the Connection: K-12 outreach program engages over 5,000 students in five counties by way of classroom presentations, field trips to engineering labs, special events such as Annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day and career fairs, Fryman said.

Classroom presentations such as What is an Engineer Anyway? demonstrate the basics in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. They showcase the history of engineering and introduce prospects in other engineering professions, the School of Engineering’s website said.

These presentations allow students to take field trips to the UNF School of Engineering, where they can talk one-on-one with both engineering professors and students and take tours of the numerous on-campus engineering labs, Fryman said.

With efforts geared toward the increasing participation of students — particularly young women, whose numbers are lacking within the engineering field — the outreach program focuses on introducing mathematics courses in a less intimidating light, she said.

Fryman, the sole director of the outreach program since 2006, said education professionals raise confidence by acting as a support network. She said they also demonstrate the connection between mathematical concepts and real-life professions.

The program sponsors several events throughout the school year. One is the JETS TEAM Competition, a two-part national event that challenges high school students to resolve real world engineering scenarios.

Another is Math Counts, a national middle school competition where students answer a multitude of complex mathematical questions. Other events include open houses and career fairs.

As a result of the program, there has been an increase in community awareness toward the UNF School of Engineering,” Fryman said.

But even with the outreach program’s success, an operating budget specific to the program does not exist, and the Engineering Advisory Council, which broke up in 2010, funds its money. What’s more, the School of Engineering has had three different directors since Fryman started–making commitments unstable.

Dr. Murat Tiryakioglu, director of the UNF School of Engineering, said the outreach’s efforts will continue whether a new director is appointed or not. However, there are currently no plans to hire a designated outreach leader, he said, as the school cannot afford one.

“There are so many other educational needs and a shrinking operating budget,” he said.

Tiryakioglu said the expected funds will not be able to accomplish all that needs to be done.

In the meantime, he said, active student chapters of engineering will power the program.

The award-winning student chapter of the Society of Women’s Engineering indicated it will be taking over the Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day event, and several other chapters plan to continue with their own efforts.

“I have no worries that they will have great success,” Tiryakioglu said.

Still, the fate of what Fryman has proposed for next year, such as an engineering summer camp, a partnership with the UNF Athletic Department to promote engineering in sports and an education after-school program, is unknown.

Members of the community are sorry to hear of the program’s end.

Jill Thomas, whose daughter participated in the program, said her daughter wants to become an engineer after Fryman’s services affected her. Pat Michael, a geometry and algebra teacher of Orange Park High School, said he’ll be voicing his concerns to UNF’s engineering professionals about the program’s end.

Fryman said the community outcry since her decision to resign has been very gratifying, and she enjoyed each opportunity to expose everyone to the benefits of an engineering education.