Inspiration Ambassadors Garner Industry Support

By Mark Dwortzan

College of Engineering Inspiration Ambassador Rana Alrabeh (CE'14) (right) and Science Club for Girls members explore Smart Lighting and LEDs at middle school in Cambridge.
College of Engineering Inspiration Ambassador Rana Alrabeh (CE'14) (right) and Science Club for Girls members explore Smart Lighting and LEDs at middle school in Cambridge.

In just two years, 86 College of Engineering undergraduates known as Inspiration Ambassadors have shared their excitement about engineering with more than 4,300 elementary, middle and high school students across the country through interactive presentations, design challenges, and robotics competition mentoring.

The ultimate goal of these enterprising College of Engineering undergraduates—to inspire as many students as possible to consider becoming engineers—couldn’t be more timely. Last year the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology projected a need for about 1 million more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate over the next decade. Although K-12 STEM programs have proliferated in recent years, most give short shrift to technology and engineering.

To help fill this gap and meet a growing demand for Inspiration Ambassadors in Greater Boston and beyond, the College of Engineering now aims to further expand its Technology Innovation Scholars Program (TISP), which professionally trains the Ambassadors.

“This program has taken off like wildfire, with exponential growth in the number of Inspiration Ambassadors and the schools they serve, and national impact on K-12 students,” said TISP Director Gretchen Fougere, the College’s assistant dean for Outreach and Diversity. “We wish we could hire all the Societal Engineers at BU who apply and deliver more to our ‘customers’ in schools and out-of-school programs clamoring for repeat visits. To continue to scale the program, we’re now reaching out to new partners in the technology industry.”

Building on support from the program’s main sponsor, the Kern Family Foundation, and alumni, the College has instituted COOL: COrporate Outreach Leaders Program, whereby interested corporate partners may sponsor multiple Inspiration Ambassadors. As partners, they may also collaborate with the Ambassadors in developing presentations and design challenges. Through such collaborations, they may enhance their current STEM efforts in schools and meet well-rounded, talented Inspiration Ambassadors nearing graduation.  

The first COOL partner, Argosy Foundation, has committed $25,000 to support ten Inspiration Ambassadors starting in September.

COOL partners join a program that provides K-12 students with a unique window on the world of engineering. Drawing on their own experiences, Inspiration Ambassadors deliver interactive, engaging presentations on engineering’s impact on our quality of life and exciting career opportunities in the field, and guide students through hands-on design challenges to solve real-world problems in energy, the environment and healthcare. They also mentor FIRST® robotics teams in Boston high schools, introducing  hundreds of students to engineering college and career options as they design and build robots for the annual Boston FIRST® Regional Robotics Competition.

The Ambassadors have proven highly effective among both K-12 teachers and students, often making a lasting impact in a single visit.

“Since the Boston University Inspiration Ambassadors’ visit, a lot of kids are saying they want to study engineering when they grow up,” said Meredith Leavitt, a Boston-based ninth grade teacher.

A case in point is a Boston-area middle school student, who observed, “I learned that engineering helps to solve the world’s problems. I’m thinking about becoming an engineer now because I can help people and have fun at the same time.”

Fougere views the program as a systemic way to impart the excitement of engineering and a diverse array of leading-edge technologies to K-12 students through accessible, engaging role models—and have a far-reaching impact on their educational and career trajectories.

“It’s a veritable hat-trick,” she said. “Younger students are inspired by relatable role-models, teachers have partners to complement and connect their lessons to technology careers, and COOL partners like Argosy and high tech companies can amplify our content and scale, to develop a workforce of Societal Engineers.”

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