JETS Promotes Engineering, Math To U.S. High School Students

By Cynthia D. Miller
Though science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education is receiving a lot of press today, there have been organizations dedicated to the advancement of the fields for many decades.

One such organization, the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS), was created in 1950 as the brainchild of Dean Lorin Miller and Harold Skamser. While initially created to give high school students who already excelled in math and science an outlet to participate in real-life engineering experiences while still in school, the organization’s philosophy has changed over the years and it now embraces all levels of students in secondary schools.  

A non-profit with more than 40,000 students participating in its activities annually, JETS emphasizes that engineering is not simply math and analytics, but embraces creative problem solving — especially in a team setting. To help students discover their potential for engineering, the organization offers a unique approach to activities — “explore, assess and experience.”   

The “explore” portion offers print and online resources that promote the positive aspect of the engineering profession and how engineers make a difference in the world. One component of explore is the JETS free e-newsletter, which includes “Extreme Engineer” interviews with professionals in more than 20 disciplines with descriptions of the various projects that they participate in daily. 

Students are also invited to examine how their own skills and interests can align with engineering by completing the PathAssess tool. PathAssess is an online interest inventory and skills survey in which students answer a series of questions and are then given a summary of engineering majors and occupations they may want to consider.  

Lastly, students can gain hands-on engineering experience by participating in the JETS TEAMS Competition. TEAMS is an annual high school program challenging students to work collaboratively and to apply their math and science knowledge toward the solving of real challenges. Each year, the topics for these competitions focus on a theme and embrace one of 14 grand challenges issued by the National Academy of Engineering. The 2011 competition will focus on energy and the need for diversification, efficiency, security and ecological sustainability.  

TEAMS competitions are conducted on the campuses of high schools, universities, corporations and professional societies. Over a four-week period each year, between 10,000 and 12,000 students in teams of four to eight converge at regional sites. During their specified day, each team participates in two competition segments. In the first part, team members collectively answer 80 multiple-choice questions focused on critical thinking, analytics, math and science.
Part two consists of eight open-ended tasks, expanding students’ ideas as they explain their engineering solutions. With 11 to 20 teams participating at each site, the day ends with an awards ceremony and the entering of that site’s results into the national JETS database.  Teams are ranked within their respective states and across the nation.

The value of the JETS TEAMS experience to participants is affirming for both the organization’s staff members, and those professionals who volunteer as coaches, site hosts and subject matter experts.  “JETS allowed me the opportunity to get an inside look at what engineers do every day,” said one TEAMS participant.  “I had never understood how involved engineers are in our everyday lives, and through JETS I was given a whole new perspective.”

Last year’s competition was one of the most successful to date with the help of major corporate sponsors, Bechtel Corp., CH2M Hill, Motorola Foundation, Rockwell Collins and Shell, as teams focused on providing solutions for clean water access.

Megan Balkovic, JETS senior director, said, “Securing additional corporate sponsors will expand JETS programs into new communities and impact more students. We hope to diversify our current TEAMS program to include a hands-on activity that will more directly engage students in an engineering experience.”

The next national JETS TEAMS competition will be held Feb. 14 to March 15. Interested participants may register at  

Cynthia D. Miller is president of Miller.Omni.Media, Inc., a woman-owned small business specializing in strategic communications, marketing and media production. She can be reached at

Topics: Research and Development

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