Smart San Jose State Student Engineers Face the Education Bubble

With a mathematically inclined son, Pi Day has been a big day in our household since we discovered it, but it’s been even more significant once we found a like-minded community with which to celebrate it, such as San Jose State’s Math Department. When I checked in with a professor about this year’s event, I found out that tragically, most of the professors didn’t have Friday classes, so they weren’t doing it. But he helpfully forwarded me the invitation from San Jose State’s honors engineering co-ed fraternity, Tau Beta Phi, which had sent the math department an invitation to join them at their celebration/50th anniversary.

I proudly put on my Pi Day t-shirt and Neil and I (and later Peter) went over to join them. Besides pie, they had a contest who could figure out the correct volume of a specific pie — though I don’t know how they determined that later, whether by throwing it in a blender and then measuring it, or calculating its density and then submerging it in water. The prize was the pie itself, which after that, may not be such a great prize after its volume has been accurately determined. There was also a raffle for a Tau Beta Phi sweater. And of course, lots of pie.

I made small talk with the student engineers and made sure to introduce Neil to all the mechanical engineers. To my delight, Neil got along well with the engineers.

It was also interesting to hear all their stories and how education is transforming itself with them within it. San Jose State is one of the few remaining public universities it’s still possible for a middle-class family to pay for with savings. But even so, with its big classes, many of them impacted, most students expect to spend 5 to 6 years getting a degree, whereas at the far pricier private schools (where it may be possible to get a scholarship to offset the insane costs), the administration practically pushes you to get through in 4 or less years — and that theoretically gives you two more years of working life.

The student engineers aren’t worried about their post-college career prospects: the valley’s high-tech recruiters are waiting to snarf up electrical, computer, and mechanical engineers as soon as that diploma hits their hands, if not sooner. And San Jose State, according to the students, has good engineering programs. One student was getting a biomedical engineering degree, which is new for San Jose State — as well as for many of the recruiters. I pointed her to a meetup group I’d heard of, which sounds like it’s trying to hack on making biomedical printers from scratch, thinking she’d might meet like-minded people on that cutting edge of science.

Most interestingly on the practical end, San Jose State is creating a 7-year engineering degree. It’s especially for students who work 40 hour weeks — with a lower per-semester number of credits required, it’s possible to pay your own way through school and life, rather than having school be a hiatus from a reality you hit hard with a gargantuan student loan on your back.

I also mentioned that Neil has turned to taking online college courses and that has been a blessing, much like the San Jose State math department has been. One student’s girlfriend is an online teacher herself, teaching high school mathematics for Stanford’s online high school.

So as my son contemplates college, there’s a lot more in the pictures beyond the traditional university as presented in, say Monsters University. (Kelly thought the event looked a lot like a scene in Monsters University, albeit with the kinds of people you’d see in Big Bang Theory instead of monsters.)

Oh, and by the way, still no one knows what the Physics department does for Pi Day, or if they celebrate it at all.

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