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Exploring Engineering Day

In celebration of National Engineers Week, on Feb. 19 the School of Engineering hosted its annual Exploring Engineering Day. Falling eggs, candy neurons, engineering against oil spills, gum drop bridges, fantastic water filters, and uncovering the secrets of light were some of the engineering activities that more than 450 elementary school students and their parents explored.

In its 10th year, the annual program offers children and their parents from the Capital Region and surrounding area an opportunity to participate in a variety of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) activities. The engineering fields covered included aeronautical, biomedical, chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical, environmental, materials, and others. The program featured 13 interactive workshops led by engineering undergraduate and graduate students who are also members of engineering professional societies and clubs at Rensselaer.

“Exploring Engineering Day activities are designed to spark young childrens’ interest in science and technology, and to help them learn what engineers do,” said Barbara Ruel, director of diversity and Women in Engineering programs in the School of Engineering and program director for Exploring Engineering Day. “Over the past 10 years, the program has increased in both size and diversity. The program includes children from Girls Inc., Boy and Girl Scouts organizations, local area private and public schools, and home-schooled children.”

Sponsored by the School of Engineering, the event is organized in part by Rensselaer’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE). This year, SWE members Eleana Manousiouthakis and Lesley Wu — seniors majoring in biomedical engineering—led the planning for student involvement. 

Additional Rensselaer groups involved in delivering the sessions included: the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center (ERC), the Center for Initiatives in Pre-College Education (CIPCE), the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers, Alpha Phi, the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Council, and Tau Beta Pi (an engineering honor society). In addition, several student clubs were involved, including the American Nuclear Society Student Chapter, Engineers for a Sustainable World, Design Build Fly, the Institute of Industrial Engineers, Material Advantage, and the Solar Racing Team. Several Greek life fraternities and sororities — Pi Kappa Phi, Pi Kappa Alpha, Pi Beta Phi, Alpha Chi Rho, and Alpha Gamma Delta — also supported the event and workshop sessions.

In an effort to provide parents with information about encouraging and supporting their children’s curiosity and interest in STEM, Bob Karlicek, director of the Smart Lighting ERC, spoke about the evolution of lighting and innovative research in his center that will have a global impact on the world’s economy. 

Ken Connor, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering and education director for the Smart Lighting ERC, with help from Elizabeth Herkenham, outreach program administrator for the School of Engineering and the Smart Lighting ERC, developed separate hands-on workshops in smart lighting for the children and for the parents, as well as a build-your-own spectrometer as a take-home activity. 

In addition, Margaret Ashida, project director for the Empire State STEM Education Initiative, spoke to parents about initiatives under way nationally and statewide to address declining test scores and interest of K-12 students in math and science. 

Following the sessions, students had the opportunity to share examples of the skills that engineers employ and the jobs they perform. Each child also received a certificate of participation as well as take-home activities, and parents were provided with activities to do at home with their children as well as information regarding STEM programs for K-12 children offered at Rensselaer, and at the Schenectady Museum and Suits-Bueche Planetarium. Representatives from the museum were also present at the event.

Photos by Travis Cano

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 4, March 18, 2011
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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