Bringing Engineering Home

Technology Innovation Scholars Inspire K-12 Students across the Nation

By Mark Dwortzan

During her winter break, Technology Innovation Scholar Evelyn Orozco (BME'12) visited 200 sixth and eighth graders at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering middle school near Hartford. According to the organizer of the visit, her former physics high school teacher Jake Mendelssohn, Orozco exuded confidence and excitement in her fast-paced PowerPoint presentation, and served as an inspirational, hardworking role model to students just beginning to consider their own potential career paths and high school plans.
During her winter break, Technology Innovation Scholar Evelyn Orozco (BME'12) visited 200 sixth and eighth graders at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering middle school near Hartford. According to the organizer of the visit, her former physics high school teacher Jake Mendelssohn, Orozco exuded confidence and excitement in her fast-paced PowerPoint presentation, and served as an inspirational, hardworking role model to students just beginning to consider their own potential career paths and high school plans.

2011-2012 Inspiration Ambassadors
2011-2012 Inspiration Ambassadors

In her presentation to the Utica Center for Math, Science and Technology, a magnet public high school in Sterling Heights, Michigan, Nicole Black (BME’14) highlighted the prominent roles that engineers have in society, from medicine to energy to transportation, drawing on examples from her courses and research at Boston University.

“Most of the students were considering careers in math and science, but coming from the metropolitan Detroit area, many did not know that engineering exists outside of the auto industry,” said Black. “At the beginning of the presentation, only a few kids raised their hands when I asked who was interested in pursuing a career in engineering, but when I asked this question at the end, over half raised their hands.”

Black is one of 30 Technology Innovation Scholars, a select group of high-performing College of Engineering sophomores, juniors and seniors charged to share their passion for innovation and engineering with elementary, middle and high school students in Greater Boston and in their hometowns. Since the program’s founding in January 2011, Technology Innovation Scholars—collectively known as the College’s “Inspiration Ambassadors”—have introduced more than 2,000 K-12 students across the country to the excitement and societal impact of engineering, guiding interactive presentations and design challenges and serving as mentors to Boston-area FIRST robotics teams.

 

Hometown Visits

The program’s first visits to hometown schools took place during this year’s winter and spring breaks, when 17 Technology Innovation Scholars met with K-12 students in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania. Incorporating information about their own engineering education and aspirations, they delivered presentations showcasing engineering’s substantial contribution to the quality of life and exciting career opportunities in the field.

Cassidy Blundell (BME’12) and Oliver Kempf (Aero’12) returned to Red Hook High School in upstate New York to share their journeys to and through the College of Engineering and field questions from a group of 60 ninth and 12th graders. Several students asked about how to overcome self-doubt and survive and thrive in a highly competitive, rigorous undergraduate engineering program. The two Technology Innovation Scholars emphasized how a love for problem-solving and a willingness to work hard and tolerate occasional failure had propelled their class through four rewarding years.   

“Their theme of perseverance and being passionate for what you love to do was most evident,” said Nick Ascienzo, Blundell’s and Kempf’s high school math teacher, who hosted the visit. “I was struck by their poise, knowledge base and honesty in promoting the field of engineering and themselves as exemplary role models.”

While visiting her former public high school in South Portland, Maine, Dorothea Crowley (BME’12) gave a presentation to more than 80 students in five different classrooms on what it means to be an engineer, covering educational and research opportunities and a variety of engineering’s Grand Challenges.

"I think the students were amazed at all the cool stuff that is going on and my proximity to it as an engineering student,” she said. “I also think the fact that I was once a student in exactly each of their places encouraged them to believe that becoming an engineer was not beyond their reach.”

“These presentations not only illustrate how pervasive technology is in K-12 students’ lives and how dependent they are on it, but also provide a roadmap of how they can become part of the next generation of engineers,” said Gretchen Fougere, the College of Engineering’s assistant dean for Outreach and Diversity. “To have someone who attended their same school and went on to thrive in college return and show what’s possible for them in engineering sends a powerful message.”

 

Innovations in a Box

The current crop of Technology Innovation Scholars has also developed, tested and facilitated several new “Innovations in a Box” design challenges that demonstrate emerging technologies and highlight College of Engineering research in global health, nanotechnology, robotics, Smart Lighting, synthetic biology and clean energy—and its potential impact on how we live. Working in teams, they created hands-on activities and a story to place those activities in a broader, societal context and to reinforce science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts.

For example, Black helped produce an Innovation in a Box involving the design of a prosthetic limb. K-12 students will receive materials such as yardsticks, tape, cups, paper, string and scissors to construct a functioning arm or leg.

“This is one example of a biomedical application of engineering which most middle and high school students are not exposed to in the typical classroom,” Black observed. “I believe that the students really enjoy learning about engineering in a hands-on way because it allows them to experience firsthand the thrill of engineering and seeing their designs in action.”

Technology Innovation Scholars facilitated another Innovation in the Box on Smart Lighting to Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, where high school students worked in teams to explore circuits with incandescent and LED bulbs and measure their power and brightness. The students evaluated the bulbs’ performance in terms of energy efficiency, environmental impact and quality of light.

“The Technology Innovation Scholars not only introduced LED technology to the students but also engaged them in a conversation about what it means to be a Societal Engineer and balance the effect of technology choices on energy, the economy and environment,” Fougere stressed.     

 

Conveying the Excitement and Impact of Engineering

Another role for the Scholars is to mentor FIRST® robotics teams which compete annually in the Boston regional competition at BU’s Agganis Arena. This year 17 Scholars met weekly with eight teams in Quincy, Dorchester, Boston, Brighton, Roxbury and Cambridge, and three of the teams won awards at the competition. BU Academy was a finalist and won the Chairman’s Award, Brighton High School won the Judge’s Award for the second straight year and both teams were invited to the World Championship. A rookie team from Boston College High School won the Xerox Creativity Award and finished fourth in a field of 54 international teams.

“One relatable role-model, engaging presentation, design challenge and mentoring relationship at a time, Technology Innovation Scholars show younger students that engineering is cool and enhances all our lives, from developing new technologies to give access to clean water to discovering new ways to diagnose and treat disease across the world,” said Fougere. “Becoming an engineer opens a world of opportunities to transform your own life and change the world at the same time.”

 

Supported by the Kern Family Foundation and alumni contributions to the ENG Annual Fund, Technology Innovation Scholars receive a $1,200 stipend and ongoing training sessions.

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