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Engineering programs ignite the sparks of Valley students

October 31, 2008

Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering leaders know that their challenge to nurture the next generation of innovators needed to maintain the nation’s technological and economic edge starts long before students enroll in college.

“Industry experts and educators agree that to prepare students for the rigors of a degree in engineering, we must capture and direct their imaginations and creativity while they are still kids,” says Steve Rippon, the school’s assistant dean for student affairs.

The engineering school is marshalling its resources to ignite the sparks that will turn young students toward careers in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math.

Almost a dozen programs geared for K-12 students are up and running. In addition, many grants for faculty research projects include funding to support STEM educational outreach in K-12 schools, and engineering school student groups at ASU are helping  introduce younger students to opportunities in engineering.

A major expansion of such efforts will be enabled by a $4 million investment in the engineering school made earlier this year by former Motorola CEO Gary Tooker and his wife, Diane. Much of it will be used to endow five engineering faculty positions for professors who will work specifically to strengthen STEM outreach efforts.

The Tookers’ investment also will help support partnerships with Arizona’s K-12 teachers and education leaders to improve high school graduation rates and student success in college, as well as support public-private partnerships between the industry and school districts geared to inspiring students to pursue science and engineering studies. 

The Tooker professors will be part of ASU’s Center for Research on Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology (CRESMET). The center develops and researches the impact of innovative teaching methods for K-16 teachers to keep students interested in these fields.

Among new and ongoing programs:

• Youth Engineering Summer Program for high school students. A two-week residential program helps high school students better understand engineering and encourages them to pursue studies to prepare them for a major in engineering. It provides a survey of engineering disciplines and careers. Students also engage in engineering projects and competitions. 

• Youth Engineering Summer Program for middle school students. A one-week commuter program designed to excite middle school students about engineering. Students get involved in projects ranging from Lego robotics to rocket launching. 

• Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement Program (MESA). A collaboration between the engineering school and local school districts engages middle school and high school students in engineering-based after-school clubs. MESA culminates in regional, state and national competitions. Eleven schools now participate.

• First Lego League. A robotics-based curriculum geared to teams of 9- to 14-year-old students. The engineering school is the statewide partner for the league, helping train and support teams to participate in regional and state competitions. More than 130 teams, involving 1,300 students, are participating.

• Senior Discovery Day. Arizona high school seniors learn about the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering and the many engineering disciplines.

• Explore Engineering, Construction and Computer Science! A one-day event geared to Arizona 10th and 11th graders to familiarize them with the disciplines in engineering. Students meet with representatives from each engineering school department, talk with industry partners and tour school facilities and labs.

• Engineering Expo. A one-day event brings Arizona middle school students to ASU’s Tempe campus to experience engineering-based, hands-on projects. 

• Collegiate Scholars. A partnership with Access ASU and the ASU Polytechnic campus provides engineering courses on high school campuses. The goal is to offer courses in as many as 10 high schools by the 2009-2010 academic year that give students course credit in engineering at ASU.

• Test of Engineering, Math and Science (TEAMS). A one-day competition challenges high school students to work as a team to apply knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world engineering scenarios. Awards are given on local, state and national levels. 

The school’s Office of Academic and Student Affairs provides campus tours and hands-on projects for K-12 students by request. Staff members also visit K-12 campuses on request to talk with students about engineering disciplines and careers, and to provide hands-on activities to engage students in engineering-based projects. As many as 200 outreach visits are being made each year.

In addition, the School of Computing and Informatics, a part of the engineering school, offers high school students summer programs where they can learn the basics of robotics and computer games.

Dozens of ASU engineering majors are contributing to the efforts. These are members of student organizations that focus on areas such as bioengineering, and aeronautical, computer and civil engineering, or encourage women and other groups underrepresented in science and engineering to pursue education in the fields. They help mentor and tutor K-12 students, and provide them opportunities to participate in hands-on science and engineering projects and workshops.