Starting Young with STEM
SAMPE volunteers help stimulate interest in science and engineering
UDaily, Written by Diane Kukich, 2:03 p.m., Aug. 1, 2011--
An “Introduction to Engineering” course in high school determined John Gangloff’s career path, and now the University of Delaware doctoral student is doing everything he can to provide that kind of life-changing experience for other kids.
As president of UD’s Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE) student chapter, Gangloff has had plenty of opportunities to organize K-12 outreach activities during the past two weeks at the Center for Composite Materials (CCM).
During the second and third weeks in July, some 20 SAMPE volunteers, including both undergraduate and graduate students affiliated with CCM, participated in demonstrations, tours, tutorials, live chats, and poster sessions at three engineering-oriented summer camps: Engineering Cool Stuff, FAME/UNITE/MERIT/UD, and Delaware Aerospace Academy.
Serving students from elementary through high school, the three camps are designed to motivate young students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors and careers:
* Sponsored by Engineering Outreach, Engineering Cool Stuff shows 12- to 16-year-olds how to use basic engineering principles to design and build a variety of structures including composite beams.
* Delaware Aerospace Academy provides hands-on training and experiences in aerospace-related activities and fields for students in grades 1–10 using Earth and space themes as the unifying framework.
* The summer residential FAME/UNITE/MERIT/UD program, which serves rising 11th and 12th graders, is aimed at increasing the participation of under-represented minorities in engineering and other science professions.
“All of these programs package key engineering concepts in a way that reinforces what kids are taught in the classroom and that lets them have fun while they’re learning,” Gangloff says. “The feedback we’ve received tells us that the activities we offered were effective—the kids were enthusiastic and engaged.”
For the Engineering Cool Stuff and Delaware Aerospace Academy campers, those activities included designing, building, and testing composite beams.
“Learning about why their beams fail is a real ‘CSI-type’ experience for the kids,” Gangloff says. “It’s all about understanding what went wrong so you can build a better beam next time. They also learned about teamwork and deadlines—two important skills for the workplace.”
Assistant dean Kathy Werrell of UD's College of Engineering says that CCM has provided “amazing opportunities” for the pre-college students in the Engineering Cool Stuff camps.
“Through the hands-on activities in the composites lab, these young people understand how the math and science they’re learning in school come to life through engineering,” she says. “The SAMPE students have been wonderful role models and shared their own love of engineering with our participants.”
For the FAME/UNITE program, the SAMPE volunteers were joined by more than 30 CCM-affiliated researchers to give tours and demonstrations. Senior assistant dean Michael Vaughan says he appreciates the examples of “practical but world-changing applications” CCM shared with the FAME/UNITE students.
“This is the appreciable difference in effectively attracting young people and others to the vast opportunities within the STEM arena,” he says, “when the science is extracted from the pages of the textbook, extended through new discovery, and allowed to come alive to address the challenges and problems confronting our global society.”
With the program partially supported by the U.S. Army, it was appropriate that the half-day agenda at CCM included presentations by Army research chemist Robert Jensen and Army research engineer Travis Bogetti.
Jensen shared information about educational and career opportunities at the Army Research Laboratory (ARL), while Bogetti delivered a presentation on ballistic and high-energy impact. “The kids get excited to see things blowing up,” Bogetti says, “but the important thing is that they get the real message too—that the purpose of everything we’re doing at ARL is to save soldiers’ lives.”
The FAME/UNITE participants not only toured CCM’s many labs and watched demonstrations of various testing and processing techniques but also tapped into the wisdom of current CCM students. “I’ve heard that if you major in engineering, you have no free time,” one young woman said. “I want to focus, but I still want to have fun.”
Mechanical engineering major Allan Burleigh quickly eased her concern. “That’s really not true,” he said. “Here at UD, we’re encouraged to do anything we want—participate in intramural sports, choose a minor in something that interests us, or play an instrument—along with studying engineering.”
J.R. Santiago, a chemical engineering major, urged participants to take advantage of the support offered by UD’s RISE (Resources to Insure Successful Engineers) program as well as to join student chapters of professional organizations like SAMPE.
“I can’t say enough about the outreach efforts of our SAMPE students,” says CCM director Jack Gillespie. “These camps cover the entire range of K-12 students, and our volunteers represent all levels at CCM, from interns to professionals, working as a team. Through the SAMPE effort, we offered meaningful hands-on activities to these young students so they could learn what engineers actually do. The impact of these activities is tremendous—it lets the participants see that becoming an engineer is a viable option for them.”
For Gangloff, delivering presentations on the Composite App Challenge and the SAMPE bridge competition brought everything full circle.
“This is what SAMPE is all about,” he says. “We start small and start young with the camps, and it’s just a few years and a few steps—doing research, preparing posters, and writing papers—before they’re competing and networking at the national level. CCM, as a major research center that is fully integrated into academic activities like these camps, provides the perfect environment to make this happen.”