7/29/13 High school students earn upfront experience with engineering
Photos by Sam Roberts / Times-News
Chapel Curry, 14, of Hawfields Middle School, learns to solder Tuesday at Alamance-Burlington Career and Technical Education Center in Burlington. Curry is part of a group of middle school students learning more about engineering careers and educational opportunities after high school.
High school students earn upfront experience with engineering
By Isaac Groves The Times-News 7/29/13
Reprinted with permission.
Krishna Patel and AJ Cummings had trouble getting their solar-powered cricket and race car to move under the bright reading lamp, until Lisa Grable, professor at N.C. State, advised them to move it from the carpet to the table.
“It was getting too much friction down there,” Grable said.
On the smooth surface the tiny light-powered car takes off, and the “cricket” dances around as the solar-powered motor inside vibrates.
Grable said these kids heading into their freshman years at Williams High School could be an important part of the country’s future. Over a quarter of the electrical engineers working in America today are due to retire, “any minute,” Grable said. So, there will be a lot of engineering jobs out there, especially with major changes in the design of our electrical grid coming.
Grable said there will be a lot of important work to do, and she would like it if some of those jobs went to some of these students.
To get them started on the path, 16 students from Alamance County middle schools attended a one-week Renewable Energy Summer Camp held at the Career and Technical Education Center, the one-year-old high school facility where local students can take courses in technical and science subjects from computers to cooking, but it is not where they have home room or where they will graduate.
The camp included hands-on activities like putting together basic circuits with kits, soldering and building small windmills to power LED lights. Students also visited a LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) “green” McDonald’s, the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant and the campus of N.C. State.
The idea is for these students to develop “engineering habits of mind,” said Melaine Rickard, head teacher at the camp, to give them ideas about what career options are in the field and get them thinking about college while they are in middle school.
Patel is hooked. She said she wants to go to N.C. State and possibly study aerospace engineering.
Cummings said he is less interested in engineering than computers. He wants to direct video games like “Call of Duty.” He thought the camp would help him with college preparation, but found himself caught up in at least some of it.
“Soldering, that was pretty cool” Cummings said, “because you could turn metal into liquid for a few seconds.”
Chapel Curry said a teacher steered her toward the camp, thanks to her science grades at Hawfields Middle School. She will be starting at Southern Alamance High School in August. Later, she said, she would like to go to nursing school at UNC Chapel Hill or UNC Greensboro.
Jorge Pacheco is a camp success story. A rising junior at NC State, he graduated from Graham High School and attended the camp in 2010.
Now, Pacheco is one of the college students helping to teach, which is his goal. He came into the camp thinking he wanted to be an engineer, but came out thinking he would really like to be a science teacher. He plans to come back to Alamance County when he finishes at N.C. State.
“I feel like if we get kids exposed to it, they could take that path,” Pacheco said. “This could be a real hotbed for engineering.” Pacheco is the first in his family to go to college, and he says it might not have happened if his chemistry teacher had not steered him toward
|Arthur Cummings, 14, of Western Middle School.|
Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems, or FREEDM Systems, is an organization working toward its ideas for a “smart grid” where millions of energy sources, many of them renewable, will put electricity into a system where everyone can tap into it.
Since renewables, like solar and wind power, are not as steady as a coal-fi red power plant, the new grid will have to take inputs from lots of different places. The organization’s Website describes it like the Internet for electricity.
Part of that effort is in education. All those engineers Grable is talking about have to come from somewhere, so FREEDM Systems and the National Science Foundation fund programs like this one as part of its pre-college outreach effort to recruit those future engineers and steer them toward college and science.
While middle school might seem young for that kind of planning, Rickard says it is not.
“It’s not early, because in eighth grade they begin a career map,” Rickard said.
A grant from the National Science Foundation funds precollege outreach programs like the camp around the country.
This is the fifth year of the 10-year grant. Alamance County has the only one of these camps for middle-schoolers in the state, because the county school system is good at collaboration, Grable said.
This is also the first year the camp has been at the Career and Technical Education Center. Their teachers want these middle school students to get used to the place.
“This is where kids take engineering classes in high school,” Grable said.