By Mark Dwortzan
On a crisp mid-December morning, 16 College of Engineering undergraduates gathered around a conference table in the Ingalls Engineering Resource Center for their inaugural meeting as the College’s first Technology Innovation Scholars (TIS). Selected from among 59 applicants, the students will soon fan out to visit elementary, middle and high schools in Greater Boston and in their home communities, where they’ll give presentations to excite students about engineering and its impact on the world.
Co-directed by College of Engineering Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen and Jonathan Rosen, special assistant to the Office of the Provost focused on promoting interdisciplinary entrepreneurial studies and senior research fellow for entrepreneurial studies at the Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization at the Graduate School of Management, the TIS program awards a $1,200 stipend and travel expenses to ENG sophomores, juniors and seniors selected to serve as “engineering ambassadors.”
“We want to do outreach and amplify the K-through-12 public’s awareness of what engineering is and what role it plays in society,” said Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen at the TIS kickoff meeting.
The TIS program is part of a broader commitment by the College of Engineering to graduate “societal engineers”—innovators and leaders motivated to leverage their engineering foundation to address challenges that can improve the quality of life and create economic value throughout society. A major step in this process is inspiring and mentoring the pipeline of technology leaders.
The idea for a Technology Innovation Scholar program originated two years ago, when Lutchen and Rosen, then developing courses on engineering and entrepreneurship, sought to introduce high school students to engineering as an exciting pathway to change the world. They subsequently created a presentation on how engineers play a crucial role in addressing society’s challenges and delivered it to about 10 Boston-area high schools. In addition, Lutchen produced and delivered a separate presentation for fifth graders.
The high school presentation frames engineering as essential to our quality of life—from the cleanliness of the water we drink to the distribution of the energy we use to power our homes—and depicts engineers as individuals who not only develop cool technologies but also figure out how to adapt them to address societal needs. The fifth grade presentation explains the difference between science and engineering, explores some of the greatest inventions and inventors of all time, and highlights some of engineering’s grand challenges in information systems, healthcare, security, energy and other domains.
When their student audiences and teachers responded to these presentations with great enthusiasm, Lutchen sought a way to awaken many more young minds to the excitement of engineering.
“I remember thinking, ‘I can’t scale this; I can’t go to every high school in Massachusetts—I have a day job,’” he told the newly minted Technology Innovation Scholars. “Then I realized that a much better idea would be to send charismatic students like yourselves out there who are much closer in age.”
Toward that end, Lutchen and Rosen asked the 16 students to prepare and deliver their own inspirational sessions on engineering and its impact on society, using the high school and fifth grade presentations—and their own experience—as source material.
“We want you to help us design even better ways of doing this,” said Rosen, who suggested that students stage live demonstrations and problem-solving exercises. “My request is for you to think about what you remember from your early education that got you excited about engineering.”
In addition to serving as engineering ambassadors, groups of two to four Technology Innovation Scholars will participate as mentors for FIRST Robotics teams for a Boston-area high school. Either at the school or at BU, they will help the teams build robots that address a specified challenge in preparation for the FIRST Northeast Regional competition hosted by BU in the Agganis Arena in April. Some scholars will also form interdisciplinary student teams to solve challenging, socially relevant design problems and build working prototypes.
The winners are Samir Ahmed (EE), Erik Frazier (BME), Chris Sullivan-Trainor (ME), Maria Zenzola-Heimbach (ME), Yasmin Atefi (ME), Cassiday Blundell (BME), Alex Chan (EE), Ita Kane (ME), Oliver Kempf (AE), Charles Manning (MFG), Peter Rock (ME), Anna Evans (EE), Mary-Louise Fowler (BME), Pam Hyde (BME), Mark Moosburner (BME) and Michael Robichaud (ME).