In celebration of National Engineers Week, the School of Engineering at Rensselaer hosted its annual Exploring Engineering Day event on Feb. 10. Creating squishy circuits, understanding fluid dynamics, learning about brain injury and therapies, generating electricity from food, building marshmallow cooling towers, and exploring the materials all around us were just a few of the engineering activities 309 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. “K-12 outreach programs, like Exploring Engineering Day, provide an opportunity for our students to share their passion and enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and to inspire younger children to follow a similar path.”

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that overall STEM employments will grow about 13 percent between 2012 and 2022, with the greatest job growth projected for occupations in health and personal care, computing and mathematics, construction, and extraction.

Launched about 18 years ago, the EED program has increased in both size and diversity. The program includes children from local public and charter schools. Fifty percent of the children who attend are female and 12 percent were underrepresented minorities.

Since its inception, the annual program offers children and their parents an opportunity to participate in a variety of activities, including aeronautical, biomedical, chemical, civil, computer systems and computer science, electrical, environmental, materials, mechanical, materials, and nuclear engineering.

The overall program is coordinated by the Rensselaer chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), who completely funded the 2018 program. This year, SWE event co-chairs included aeronautical engineering major Courtney Kearney ’18 from Pembroke, Massachusetts, and civil engineering major Hilary Fiorentino ’18 from West Deptford, New Jersey, who worked with Ruel to plan and deliver the program, along with support from about 80 engineering student volunteers.

This year, 18 different engineering and science student organizations led a total of four meet-and-greet and 11 classroom hands-on activities. Organizations included Engineering Ambassadors, Science Ambassadors, Material Advantage, ACM-W, Coding&&Community, NSBE, SHPE, Rensselaer Electric Vehicle, The Biomedical Engineering Graduate Council and the Biomedical Engineering Society, ESW & EWB, Women in Nuclear and the American Nuclear Society, Rocket Society, Forge, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Alumni from Regeneron, GlobalFoundries, and Newport News also led activities for the children.

Ruel 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.

In addition, parents attended a series of short talks presented by School of Engineering faculty, including Christopher Letchford, professor and head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, “The Future of Civil Engineering: Solving Problems of Urbanization and the Environment; David Duquette, John Tod Horton Professor of Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, “Engineering Principles for Future Technologies”; and Kristen Mills, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering (MANE), “Experimental Tumor Growth Models.”

Following the short talks, parents had the opportunity to delve into the world of STEM disciplines by observing two activities in which their children participated. 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.

Ruel noted that this year’s hands-on activities highlighted the need for engineers and scientists to work collaboratively to solve interdisciplinary challenges. “Designing and delivering these activities helps our students develop strong communication skills and the general public to appreciate how science and technology benefit society. In addition to serving our immediate community, outreach programs like this one open the door for students to take on leadership roles, teaching roles, collaborate with their peers, and demonstrate pride in their work and in Rensselaer. The program has become so popular that we generated a wait list of 200 families this year and a wait list of 600 families who are interested in next year’s program.”

Photo credit: Demetrius Green ’18