Science. Technology. Engineering. Math.
From some students, they are subjects that may stir an initial sense of trepidation; for others, maybe even a little dread.
Engineering senior design students and faculty at Temple Ambler are working hard to allay those fears and get young students excited about STEM.
"We're involved in STEM outreach because I think it's essential that we support STEM education and help middle and high school students learn about the work engineering students are doing at Temple. We want students to become excited about pursuing careers in science technology, engineering and math," said Sherwood "Woody" Polter, an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering, Technology and Management in the College of Engineering. "Our students are required to do a presentation as part of their coursework for senior design. These programs have also enabled our students to act as role models to local area schools. This is the first year where we've been able to have schools come to campus for STEM outreach programs."
On Friday, November 18, Engineering senior design students and faculty helped students from Philadelphia High School for Girls and Central High School explore the innovative, detailed projects they have been working on during Engineering Prototype Day at Temple Ambler.
During the program, students were able to get a hands-on look at a robotic, semi-autonomous lawnmower project and studies into composite materials in addition to trying their hand with a joystick, throttle and rudder controller. They also experienced the aircraft cockpit shell of the Light Aircraft Dynamic Flight Control Simulator and learned about Engineering's Space Flight Simulator.
The goal of the Engineering Prototype Days is to explain to students visiting the University "why we're in the STEM career field," Polter said.
"We were kids ourselves at one point and we liked taking things apart and putting things back together to understand what they were all about. We're trying to encourage them to essentially do the same thing," he said. "We want them to think about why technology is important, to think about areas that involve aviation, automation and robotics. Perhaps there is a career in these fields waiting for the students in the future. We want the students to realize that if we can do it, so can they —that's the role model that we play with the younger kids."
Tyler Williams, an Electrical Engineering major who participated in the first Engineering Prototype Day during the spring 2022 semester, said hands-on projects like the robotic lawnmower, the team of which he was a part, are "a great way to learn what it takes to be a great engineer and it also builds great connections."
"I enjoyed the opportunity to show what we have been working on to the younger community and definitely think there was a lot of interest among the students," he said. "If there was one thing that I hope our visitors got out of Prototype Day, it would be a love for STEM. It takes a certain type of person to have an interest in this field, but it is also a trait that engineering employers value — you have to love the job you do."
Brandon Lutz, a Mechanical Engineering Major who graduated from Temple in May 2022 and a member of the Light Aircraft Dynamic Flight Control Simulator, said hands-on experiences are incredibly valuable for the Engineering students and the younger students they've been able to share their concepts with.
"Projects like this allow us to put our theories to the test and really see what the engineering process is all about. Many times, our theories failed or were not optimal and we had to make adjustments and design a new iteration — that is what engineering is all about," he said. "It was great seeing visiting students get their hands on some of the flight simulators we had set up for the presentation; the presentation alone just would not have done it justice without letting them come on stage and get to experience sitting in the cockpit and experience the flight simulator. I hope that the students see how excited we are about the work that we are doing and are hopefully inspired to find a project of their own that they are just as passionate about."
Mallory Goodman, an Engineering Technology major, had the opportunity to share the work of the Engineering fabrication team at the previous Prototype Day.
"Our focus was bringing a 3D model of the (aircraft) cockpit doors to life. I was able to share with the students the many facets of product development, specifically things like budgeting, creating a product roadmap, producing G-code, and creating a fiberglass mold," she said. "I think it was very important for the students to be hands-on with our projects because it allowed them to see how all the pieces that we presented came together to make a final product — it also is a great way to engage and inspire the students.
In another opportunity to pass knowledge and experience along to the next generation, astronaut USN (ret.) Christopher Ferguson, a 2022 inductee into the Astronaut Hall of Fame who logged 40 days, 10 hours and four minutes in space, will meet with students from several of the Engineering capstone projects at Temple Ambler on December 3. The visit is being sponsored by the Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum.
The "dream come true" for the Engineering students and faculty that are sharing their knowledge — and in turn having knowledge shared with them by individuals who have excelled in the field — "is to get people to go into STEM career fields," Polter said.
"I think what is preventing some of the students from going into STEM careers is some of the math, the physics, and the science involved," he said. "I think we can overcome some of those difficulties when they can see the application being used. They will have more encouragement to want to put the effort into studying those subjects."
When she was younger, Goodman said, "I had no idea what engineering was or what college students were doing."
"These programs are important for exposing kids to engineering and the problems they have the potential to solve. It truly allows them to dream big and realize the things they can accomplish," she said. "It is also rewarding to be able share the work that we have put so much effort into.
I hope the visitors who participate in programs like this are able to learn something new and become inspired to pursue STEM careers."