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Engineering 5 Goes Intergalactic

In part one of our profile on Engineering 5, first-year students learned the principles of engineering while getting hands-on experience across a multitude of disciplines. In the current installment, one of the undergraduate student sections in the course reaches out to a local school district in need of a boost to its science and technology education program.


So much for the ivory tower.

This is the basic premise behind the Lehigh Valley Partnership for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). The project, a joint Lehigh University and National Science Foundation initiative, is in place to inspire graduate and undergraduate students pursuing STEM-based goals in academia and industry to excel in their research while giving back to the community through educational outreach.

Click the STEM logo for more on the project

The STEM project awards prestigious NSF Teaching Fellowships to Lehigh University students to support their research, and places Lehigh faculty and graduate and undergraduate students in fourth- through twelfth-grade classrooms to enhance curriculum and teach hands-on lessons about science, technology, engineering and math. Teachers, students, professors and industry partners work collaboratively to create real-world applications that fit into each classroom’s curriculum.

One of Lehigh’s public-school partners in this program is Harrison Morton Middle School (HMMS) of Allentown, PA, and it’s at HMMS that first-year Lehigh students in the Engineering 5 course are also helping to revolutionize science and technology education – and to create an 800-square-foot replica of the Martian landscape in the basement of a structure built in the 1800s. From their classrooms, middle-school students working on projects that relate to their curricula use wireless technology to control mobile robots that perform experiments in the so-called “Mars Yard.”

Bill Pottenger

“As part of our Engineering 5 course,” notes Bill Pottenger, assistant professor of Computer Science and Engineering and Principal Investigator of the STEM project, “we offer an optional outreach component. The first-year students in the course have certainly risen to the challenge. Our faculty and the faculty at HMMS agree – our students are an absolutely indispensable resource in getting the schoolchildren excited about science and technology and helping them see these subjects as viable future endeavors.”

Working in pairs, Engineering 5 students visited HMMS throughout the semester to give brief demonstrations of the mobile robots and supervised short hands-on activities. “The outreach project extends the Engineering 5 classroom experience because it allows our students to reinforce what they've learned,” Bill continues. “Teaching a simplified version to grade-schoolers is a great way for them to make sure they truly understand the material. Our students need to be able to answer questions on demand and work together to give the brief demonstrations. The project enhances Engineering 5 students’ communication, presentation and teaching skills as well, and gives them an important opportunity to give back to their community.”

Bill explains that STEM is driven by three basic goals. “First, it’s about getting kids in grades four through twelve, especially in schools with high percentages of minority and low-income families, excited about learning science, technology, engineering and math. Second, it’s about getting Lehigh graduate and undergraduate students excited about careers in teaching and research in science, technology, engineering and math. We recruit top-notch graduate students to Lehigh who become leaders in their fields with a passion to reach out to disadvantaged youth. And third, it’s about getting the whole community involved in helping kids succeed, creating partnerships among local schools, universities and private industry that bring the real world of science into the classroom.”

According to Bill, the efforts of the Engineering 5 students at HMMS are one facet of a growing focus at Lehigh on the importance of stimulating interest in science, math, and engineering education among the K-12 student community. “As part of the NSF’s STEM project, we’re also involved at Dieruff High School in Allentown, Fountain Hill and Spring Garden Elementary Schools, Broughal Middle School, and Freedom High School in Bethlehem. Taking into consideration the numerous camp programs at Lehigh in bioengineering, materials science, and optics, for example, this STEM project itself is but one facet of an incredibly vibrant commitment from Lehigh in this area. The end goal is to help kids see the possibilities that abound for an individual with a solid STEM education as part of their background.”

Engineering 5 students involved at HMMS include: teaching assistant Ryan Siu, and first-year Lehigh students Jesse Krinsky, Ryan McErlean, Cheena Mehta, Jennifer Nichols, Bradley Riddle, Joseph Sabol, Jacob Staiger, Marc Stubel, Panayiotis Vardaxis, Andrew Vriens, Derek Wagner, and Shao-Han Ou Yang, and many other Lehigh graduate and undergraduate students as well.

For more information on the STEM project, check out the Lehigh Valley Partnership for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. For more information on Lehigh's innovative Engineering 5 course for first year students, check out part one of our profile on the course.

Posted on Friday, January 20, 2006

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