Last week, in celebration of National Engineers Week, the School of Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hosted its annual Exploring Engineering Day event on Saturday, Feb. 22. Designing balloon cars, extreme newspaper construction, tissue engineering artery design, Lego engineering, straw towers, and ice creamical engineering, are just a few of the engineering activities 300 children in grades 3 to 6, and their parents explored as part of the program.
“Exploring Engineering Day activities are designed to spark the interest of young children in engineering and computer science through hands-on exploration,” said Barbara Ruel, director of diversity and women in engineering programs in the School of Engineering and program director for Exploring Engineering Day. “We are always looking for ways to engage with students and the local community to encourage individuals to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. In order to expand our outreach efforts, we reached out to the superintendents of our major cities and local public and charter schools, as well as several area organizations.”
Launched 11 years ago, the program has increased in both size and diversity. The program included children from Girls Inc., Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts organizations, local area private and public schools, and home-schooled children. Approximately, 50 percent of the participating students were young girls.
The annual program offers children and their parents an opportunity to participate in a variety of activities, including aeronautical, biomedical, chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical, environmental, and materials engineering. The overall program is coordinated by the Rensselaer chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), with support from multiple School of Engineering student organizations. Area organizations that also participated in the event include miSci (Museum of Innovation and Science), and GlobalFoundries
Biomedical engineering major, Carolyn Chlebek ’15 and chemical engineering major, Kirthana Bhat ’15, served as this year’s event co-chairs, who worked Ruel to plan and deliver the program, along with support from 200 Rensselaer student volunteers.
Eight different workshops will be offered, all led by engineering undergraduate and graduate students who are members of engineering professional societies and clubs at Rensselaer. Ruel also noted that the annual program introduces students and their families to diverse college student role models who are pursuing degrees in engineering and computer science, and leading the activities as a way to engage with the children.
The student workshops were run in the morning and afternoon sessions. Following a student panel session, parents had the opportunity to delve into the world of STEM disciplines by participating in two of the four hands-on activities activities that their children were attending.
Also, in an effort to provide parents with information about how to encourage and support their children’s curiosity and interest in STEM disciplines, children and parents received take-home information about games, local activities, and online resources.
Additional Rensselaer groups involved in delivering the sessions include: the National Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers, and Materials Advantage. Also participating are: Eta Kappa Nu, electrical engineering honor society, Chi Epsilon Civil Engineering Honor Society, American Institute of Chemical Engineering student chapter, Biomedical Engineering Graduate Council, American Nuclear Society student chapter, Engineers for a Sustainable World, Engineers without Borders, Institute for Industrial Engineering student chapter, Design, Build, Fly student organization, Rensselaer Electric Vehicle student organization, and Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.
Exploring Engineering Day is part of the larger effort at Rensselaer to engage young people in science and engineering studies and professions. Other pipeline programs include: Design Your Future Day, to engage young girls in science and engineering studies and professions; Black Family Technology Awareness Day, designed to spur interest in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and the arts; and the Rensselaer Molecularium project, to teach young children about the world of atoms and molecules.