In celebration of National Engineers Week, the School of Engineering hosted its annual Exploring Engineering Day event on Saturday, Feb. 21. Experimenting with electromagnetics, understanding nuclear power, exploring biological cell function, understanding how cars work, and building water sheds were just a few of the engineering activities 360 children in grades 3 to 6 and their parents got to explore 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 12 years ago, the program has increased in both size and diversity. The program includes 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 are young girls from the Capital Region community.

Since its inception, the annual program has offered children and their parents an opportunity to participate in a variety of activities, covering aeronautical, biomedical, chemical, civil, computer systems, electrical, environmental, materials, mechanical, microelectronics, and nuclear engineering disciplines. The program is coordinated by the Rensselaer chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, with support from multiple School of Engineering student organizations and departments, including the Center for Initiatives in Pre-College Education. Area organizations that also participated in the event include miSci (Museum of Innovation and Science) and GlobalFoundries.

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.”—Barb Ruel

Biomedical engineering major Cassie Megna ’17, who serves as an Engineering Ambassador, and chemical engineering major Weronika Jakubowska ’17, who serves as a member of the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women and the Women at Rensselaer Mentor Program, were this year’s event co-chairs. They worked with Ruel to plan and deliver the program, along with support from 200 Rensselaer student volunteers.

Eight workshops were led by engineering undergraduate and graduate students who are members of engineering professional societies and clubs at Rensselaer. 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 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 included: the American Institute of Chemical Engineering student chapter; the American Nuclear Society student chapter; the Rensselaer Computer Science Club; Chi Epsilon Civil Engineering Honor Society; Design, Build, Fly student organization; Engineering Ambassadors; Engineers without Borders; Engineers for a Sustainable World; Material Advantage; Rensselaer Electric Vehicle student organization; Rensselaer Motorsport; Science Ambassador; Sigma Gamma Tau; Society of Physics students; and the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Council.

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.