ORONO, Maine (NEWS CENTER) – Benjamin Leary started his first year at the University of Maine with a leg up as a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering.

"My dad went to UMaine. Two of my older brothers went to UMaine,” Leary said. “When I was a freshman, I was 99 percent sure I was going to UMaine. That's just my destiny.”

He got a head start as one of the first students to take part in a pipeline program between the University and his high school Thornton Academy.

"I was kind of always like ‘This is what I need to do. I'm going to do it,’” he said.

"I know I want to be an engineer and it's a good option and my family's taking it. It's just perfect."

The program allows students like Leary to get an engineering degree in just three years. It equates to a savings of at least $24,000 in tuition.

"This is the only university in Maine where we have a pipeline where students can complete an entire year at high school,” Dana Humphrey, Dean of the School of Engineering said.

Humphrey said he hopes the program will continue to expand by creating more partnership with schools across the state. He also said he wants to see more high schools create STEM academies.

"I want to see the college of engineering grow by at least a thousand students so we can meet Maine's engineering work force needs,” Humphrey said.

The shortage is two-fold. There was a growth in engineering jobs by 25 percent over the last decade in Maine, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Nearly 27 percent of engineers currently in the state are reaching retirement age.

Combined the College of Engineering estimates there is a need for more than 3,000 engineers.

Leary and his friend Caleb Bailey, both graduates of Thornton Academy, are the first two students to take advantage of the program. They both took a number of Advanced Placement courses together their senior year to prepare.

“It was cool and there was sort of competition between the two of us after every test like ‘What did you get?’" Bailey said.

Bailey, a physics engineering major, said the program was a lot of work his senior year, but well worth it.

"It's a year not only not paying for it but also a year you're not in school,” he said.

Bailey and Leary both said they are not sure if they will stay in the state once they graduate, but are certain they picked the right path.

"It let me know ‘Oh this is what I want to do.’ It was perfect for me,” Leary said.

Only a handful of schools are part of the program right now. There is also no requirement that students stay in the state once they graduate.