By Liz Sheeley
About 80 middle school students gained exposure to engineering concepts – many for the first time – through the hands-on U-Design program over the summer. The annual U-Design program, sponsored by the College each July, gives the youngsters a chance to build something, have fun doing it, and begin to consider the possibility of an engineering career.
“One of the goals of the U-Design is to get traditionally underrepresented and underserved kids excited about engineering through hands-on exploration,” says Assistant Dean of Outreach and Diversity Stacey Freeman. “Our hope is that programs like these will increase the number of women and racially diverse students who choose engineering.”
The students are mostly from the Boston area and the College offers scholarships for up to half of the participants. ENG undergraduates, mostly from the Technology Innovation Scholars Program (TISP), act as mentors to the students, with lead teachers from local high schools who have been working with U-Design and TISP for many years.
Two of the TISP undergraduates who participated in U-Design, Esther Huynh (ME ’19) and Eva Gee (ME ’20), said the students came in with a mix of backgrounds and knowledge about engineering, but that they were glad some who had never considered engineering were getting excited about it.
“I had never been exposed to engineering as a possible career path when I was in middle or high school,” says Huynh. “It’s great to get students interested in STEM and also gives me the chance to apply what I’ve learned at BU into a very practical setting, which is definitely satisfying.”
The U-Design program featured three workshops: Electrical and Mechanical Gizmos; Robo-Alley; and Flight School 101. The Gizmos workshop focused on designing and building electrical circuits, while Robo-Alley gives students the chance to learn coding basics to integrate into a robot. Flight School teaches students about the mechanics of flight and provides hands-on experience building gliders and rockets.
In addition to the course work, the students also tour ENG faculty lab spaces, hear lectures from researchers, and see how what they’re learning is applied to solving real-world problems.