Local elementary students visit Texas A&M to learn about STEM careers

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Dr. Merrideth Holub, senior academic advisor for the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution (ETID), knows that motivating kids to pursue STEM careers has to begin early in their education.  

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Based on this understanding, she recently hosted a campus visit for 120 fourth grade students from Forest Ridge Elementary School to ETID at Texas A&M University. 

The fourth graders spent two hours learning about what being an engineer is all about and taking part in a number of different experiential learning activities.  

All four of the ETID academic programs took part in the visit to help inspire students to think seriously about STEM education and careers.  

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“Because all of our undergraduate programs are hands-on, ETID is a great place for elementary school students to really get to see what being an engineer is all about,” said Holub. “The students were subdivided into four groups with each group spending 30 minutes with each of our programs.” 

Charlene Bandfield, Liz Adams, Lauren Given, Andrea Prcin, Martha Snider and Sara Swetish were the teachers who arranged and conducted the visit for the students, who are part of the Falcon Leaders Inspire Program (FLIP) at Forest Ridge.

Dr. Behbood Zoghi represented the electronic systems program andprovided insight into the importance of engineers developing leadership skills and team dynamics. Teams were given 10 minutes to brainstorm and then provided characteristics of a great team. These included:

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  1. Leadership
  2. Teamwork
  3. Communications ( especially listening)
  4. Trust
  5. Perseverance
  6. Fun

Following this activity, the students validated these characteristics by participating in a team exercise to lower a helium (lightweight) rod. As shown in the figure, students lined up in two rows and had to keep the stick horizontal as they lowered it to the ground while making sure that everyone’s fingers remained in contact with the rod. Awards were given to the best team in each group.

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Bob Borsh from industrial distribution took each group of fourth graders through the supply chain necessary to transition a “toy” from its raw materials to a finished product delivered to the end user. All of the students were intrigued with how this happens and asked a number of questions to learn more about the processes and how engineers played important roles in the creation of the toys. 

Adam Farmer from the manufacturing and mechanical program toured each group of students through the program’s advanced machining labs. He also demonstrated how additive manufacturing and product design are used in prototyping and product development.

The students learned about 3-D printing, making and using molds, and other manufacturing processes necessary to move an idea to finished product.   

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The newest ETID program is multidisciplinary engineering technology with a focus in mechatronics. Robots are used in a number of the new program’s courses, so that was what the four groups of fourth graders were introduced to during their visit. 

Undergraduate students Austin Carter, Mitch Martinez and Matt Seago demonstrated some of the robotic technology being developed by the program and then invited the students to compete in five-person teams in a mobile robotics race of champions using the articulated suspension Digital Systems Teaching and Research (DSTR – pronounced “Disaster”) on the race course set up in front of Fermier Hall.

All in all, the fourth graders had a great time and saw multiple aspects of what engineers learn and do. Organizers are hoping some of these fourth graders are now thinking that they may want to join the Class of 2030 engineers by coming to Texas A&M for their undergraduate education.  

Holub is already thinking about repeating the experience for other groups of elementary school students in the future. 

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