Engineering Ambassadors: Engaging Middle Schoolers

Members of UConn’s UTC Engineering Ambassadors visited East Hartford Middle School in late July to engage 60 middle school students participating in a summer program offered by CPEP (Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program).  CPEP is a non-profit educational organization whose goals are to encourage positive attitudes, enhance knowledge and influence educational and career choices among underrepresented students with respect to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.  The students, from East Hartford and Glastonbury, enjoyed the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities and learn more about the role of engineering in everyday life.

The CPEP summer camp is a five-week educational program for middle school students, to mitigate summer learning loss by increasing their math proficiency.  In advance of the visit, the UTC Ambassadors – nine engineering students attending UConn and five students from the Pennsylvania State University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Worcester Polytechnic Institute – worked with CPEP management to design a variety of afternoon activities. The visit was organized by Ambassadors Monica Smith (Eurotech) of UConn and Victoria Stratton of WPI, along with CPEP Board member, Mike Reiter of Pratt & Whitney.  

Armed with four fun “representative” props, the Ambassadors led a variety of engineering design challenges. An activity involving brownie mix and vegetable oil effectively conveyed the different engineering roles involved in cleaning up an oil spill.  In another activity, marshmallow and toothpick assemblies designed and built by student teams were subjected to the rigorous vibrations provided by a homemade shake table, with the goal of having the structure implode in upon itself when failure occurred.

The Engineering Ambassadors program was originated by United Technologies Corporation (UTC) as a way to enrich the engineering pipeline. The company provides financial, training and advisory support to the Ambassadors, who are undergraduate engineering students at the four schools. UTC Ambassadors visit school classrooms, offer hands-on demonstrations, discuss their experiences and career plans with children from particularly underserved communities.

According to Monica, the group spent a half day with the CPEP students that also included a presentation by UConn Ambassador Milos Atz (Chemical Engineering) highlighting aspects of his college experience.  The visit was such a hit with the middle school children that the CPEP leadership have asked the UTC Ambassadors to deliver an encore performance next summer.

The busy Ambassadors continued their good works by donating three hours toward the clean-up of Hartford’s Pope Park as part of a joint effort with the Pratt &Whitney professional chapter of Engineers Without Borders.  For additional coverage of UTC Engineering Ambassadors activities, read here and here

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