The idea of settling on a career path is perhaps the furthest thing from the thoughts of an 11-year-old student during the middle of their day; their minds rather, may be occupied with schoolwork, video games and coming up with new ways to excuse themselves from walking the family pet.
But one group of Rowan students has found a way to focus children on the future while balancing the fun of childhood.
Rowan University’s engineering outreach program Engineers on Wheels (EW) tries to guide young students towards making early career decisions in the direction of engineering. Traveling to various elementary schools in the area, the program brings the basic concepts of engineering to students in grades k-12 through different science related activities
“We try to cover all the bases of engineering,” said Erin Signor, senior civil and environmental engineering major and presenter for EW. “We try to get them really involved with engineering and science in general because the goal of the outreach is to get them interested early on so when they get into middle school and high school they can take classes that are more interesting to them.”
Recently, the program traveled to Memorial Elementary School in Pitman and gave a demonstration for Ali DeTolla’s fifth grade class. DeTolla originally contacted EW to give her students the chance to interact with prospective engineers.
Signor conducted that particular day’s lesson on electrical engineering by first explaining how electricity works and is implemented in daily life. When it was suggested that the subject might be too advanced for her students, DeTolla said that she expects her students to make a connection to the lesson and have fun doing so. After the lesson, the class was organized into groups for a hands on activity involving Snap Circuit electricity sets.
The students then worked with each other to construct simple battery powered switches, fans and toy propeller wheels, with some of them would shouting, “I caught it!” when one of the plastic wheels went whizzing through the air.
“My favorite thing about these experiments is that I’m having the most fun building it,” said Harry Tartagalia, age 10. “And you also have fun when you use the product of it, but the most fun part is building it.”
After everyone finished constructing and playing with their sets, Signor used them as another lesson about the different types of power from batteries. She later explained that if children can have fun doing little engineering projects like the ones they bring to schools weekly, then they might want to pursue that kind of career later in life.
“Basically what I want them to take away from this is that science can be fun, especially engineering,” Signor said. “For example, I am getting my degree in civil and environmental engineering, [and] I was recently hired for mechanical. So I want them to know that they can do what they want.”
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