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Engineering Enthusiasm 

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 17, 2017) – Betty Lise Anderson of The Ohio State University and a team of College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS) faculty brought a hands-on engineering project to students at Hackett Middle School recently.

At Ohio State, Anderson is professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. She is also program director for K-12 Engineering Outreach. In that capacity, she and her students have reached more than 100 schools and over 18,000 students, developing 20 different kid-friendly engineering projects.

Here at UAlbany, founding CEAS Dean Kim L. Boyer is piloting a similar initiative with the Albany City School system. Research indicates that 6th grade is the “sweet spot” for igniting interest in engineering.

“Projections indicate a large disparity between future demand for engineers and the estimated number of people who will be qualified to fill those jobs,” Boyer said. “By bringing tangible projects that introduce students to engineering principles, we challenge already inquisitive children to think like inventors and problem-solvers.”

As part of the University’s planned initiative to introduce STEM fields to local schools, Anderson spent the morning of April 5 leading UAlbany CEAS faculty in building speakers made out of paper and a DC motor, so that they could show a 6th grade science class at Hackett Middle School how to build their own paper speakers that afternoon.

Participating faculty included: Hany Elgala, Daphney-Stavroula Zois, Dola Saha and Weifu Wang, all of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and George Berg and Feng Chen of the Department of Computer Science.

Participating staff members included Ronnie Rowe of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Daphne Jorgensen and Angela St. John of the CEAS Dean’s office.

“The speaker illustrates the application of science (electromagnetics) to building something useful, which is what engineering does,” Anderson said.

Music is represented by an oscillating current, such as a cell phone can produce. When the current flows through an electromagnet (the faculty each made some by winding wire around a drinking straw), the coil becomes a magnet. When the current starts, the magnet flips north, south, north, south in strength proportional to the music signal.

“The electromagnet is glued to a paper diaphragm and there is a permanent magnet glued to the base. When the current oscillates, the electromagnet is attracted and repelled by the permanent magnet, according to the music signal, causing the paper to vibrate and produce the sound,” Anderson said. “How cool is that?”

The speaker is made mostly of cardboard and paper with a little wire and a small permanent magnet, so it costs less than a dollar to make, and the students got to take theirs home.

“I loved my trip to UAlbany,” Anderson said. “I was impressed by the collegial group of faculty I met there who were fun to work with. It was clear they are really serious about changing the world and helping kids have good experiences. I also saw them interact with some random UAlbany students who wandered by; I love the friendly atmosphere.”

Anderson said it is important to bring STEM to all kids.

“Even if kids aren’t going to be engineers or scientists, they will need to understand technology and not be afraid of it. Also, we do not have enough diversity in engineering. Research shows kids tend to decide what they want to be when they grow up around middle school age,” Anderson said.

Engaging female middle school students and students of color will be a primary goal of the CEAS initiative. Studies show middle school is when girls’ interest in STEM fields starts to wane, leading to vast underrepresentation. Representation of people of color is lower – African Americans account for 6 percent, and Hispanics 7 percent, of those employed in STEM fields. However, research indicates that early engagement and success in tinkering activities leads to an increased interest in engineering careers.

The average starting salary for engineering graduates nationwide in 2017 is expected to be about $66,097 averaged over all engineering disciplines, for a person with a B.S. degree with no experience.

Photos by Daphne Jorgensen and Jordan Carleo-Evangelist. 

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