The Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University is bringing hands-on activities to children across the region.
In pursuance of goal five of WVU’s 2020 Strategic Plan, Outreach Coordinator Cate Schlobohm works with engineering student organizations on campus, as well as regional elementary, middle and high schools, to provide engaging educational opportunities to students of all ages.
WVU outreach teams go to schools and lead hands-on activities teaching engineering, and showcasing opportunities available in these fields. They also participate in annual outreach events, such as Girl Scouts Day, Merit Badge University, 8th Grade Day and the Pumpkin Drop.
While most of these visits have been in Monongalia County, there are plans to expand to other areas of West Virginia, as well as southwestern Pennsylvania. Additionally, there is a Skype “visit” panned for a school in urban Arizona, with whom Statler College Ambassadors have been pen pals.
“Our goal is to meet the teachers’ needs,” Schlobohm said. “Every school is different. Some schools have something in the curriculum that they want us to relate to engineering. Others just want us to solidify what engineers do, because to young students this is an ambiguous occupation.”
The Statler Ambassadors aid Schlobohm in these outreach efforts. They design and build “projects in a box” – simple, reusable and transportable activities – and help the students work through them.
Colin Frosch, a junior civil engineering major from Clarksburg, W.Va., put his transportation planning knowledge to use by designing and building a transportation game. He used plywood and dowels to create a course for the students to navigate through.
“I remember being on the other side of outreach programs as a kid, and remembering how much more fun I had when I was able to do hands-on activities,” Frosch said. “I always loved being able to do things, build things and experiment. Outreach programs gave me those opportunities.”
These activities are not just a benefit to the children reached – it excites the WVU engineering students who lead them, too.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to share my passions and experiences with kids younger than me, and get them excited about engineering,” said Statler Ambassador Nick Underwood, a senior aerospace engineering major from Beckley, W.Va. “My participation has definitely made me more interested in STEM education.”
In addition to these local outreach programs, Statler College sends representatives to several annual events, including the West Virginia State Fair, 4H camps and the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. Through these events, thousands of people are exposed to various types of engineering, and learn what it takes to become one.
The college also hosts summer camps on campus, allowing elementary through high school students a chance to interact with engineering faculty and students at WVU.
“We show them that math and science aren’t terrifying; that they can be fun,” said Schlobohm.
Recently, the Statler College bridged a partnership with the Children’s Discovery Museum of West Virginia in Morgantown to provide fun, educational exhibits for preschool children.
“Working with the Statler College will give us the opportunity to improve our engineering exhibit area and expand our special event offerings,” said Julie Bryan, director of the museum.
The outreach team has visited local schools for a “science night,” showing off fun equipment such as the Van der Graaff Generator, which generates static electricity by rubbing a small metal comb on a large rubber band.
“It is always a wonderful addition to our special events to have WVU students interacting with our visitors,” said Bryan. “When children interact with current students it makes it more real that they, too, can go to college and become engineers.”
“Overall, we just want young students to learn that there are opportunities in engineering,” said Schlobohm. “In a lot of the places we go, college isn’t seen as a given. We want to show them how the can coordinate something they’re passionate about into their education.”