Engineering Ambassadors Visit Magnet School

By John C. Giardina

On September 2nd, 10 UConn engineering students kicked-off the new school year with science and technology classes at CREC Two Rivers Magnet Middle School in East Hartford, CT.  The UConn students are Engineering Ambassadors, members of an outreach program that presents engineering concepts to school age students in the form of interactive demonstrations.  The Engineering Ambassadors program was started in fall 2009 with a $50,000 grant from United Technologies Corporation and aims to introduce K-12 students to engineering and problem solving and to foster an interest in the science and technology fields as a career.  More information on the program as a whole can be found here.

For the students at CREC Two Rivers Magnet Middle School, there are myriad benefits of a visit from the Engineering Ambassadors.  The Ambassadors work with the students to complete a few labs that are tied into their science goals for the year and are all designed to present an example of engineering in an exciting and accessible way.  Courtney Zuckerman, the science curriculum coordinator at the school, said the experiments “provide our students hands on opportunities in math and science.”  After completing the labs, the students are able to ask the Ambassadors about engineering and college in general.  This part, Zuckerman said, was a highlight of the visit.  “Our students loved the opportunity to interact with college students.  The question and answer session at the end was a great way to demonstrate the importance of a college education to our students.”

The 10 UConn students who visited the school included: Kayla Johnson (ME ’13), Stephany Santos (BME ’12), Ryan Darin (CSE ’13), Andre Silva (ECE ’12), Dave Golfin (CMBE ’14), Milos Atz (CMBE ’14); Rose Cersonsky (MSE ’14), Aaron Eaddy (ECE ’14), Monica Sawicki (MSE Ph.D. student), and Vincent Palumbo (MSE Ph.D. student).  Out of the demonstrations they conducted with the students, an especially popular one was a civil engineering project called chocolate asphalt.  This demonstration centered on the principles of concrete and pavement.  Using melted chocolate and nuts, they mixed different proportions of the two materials and saw how the strength of the resulting surface changed, just as varying quantities of asphalt and aggregate will create different grades of pavement.  The activity showed the students how engineering was applicable in the real world and how the engineer’s method of problem solving can be useful and exciting.

The benefits of this program, however, are not limited to the students at the partner school.  The greater UConn community reaps tremendous rewards from the success of the students at the surrounding schools.  The program introduces these bright middle school students to the field of engineering, something they may not have been exposed to before.  It also gives UConn the opportunity to make a positive first impression with these promising students.  The development of middle and high school students who are talented in math and the sciences puts UConn at the forefront of the next generation of innovative engineers and builds relationships that will pay off for years to come.

Sonya Renfro, UConn School of Engineering outreach and diversity programming coordinator, said she hopes the September visit represents the start of a long-term partnership with CREC Two Rivers Magnet School and the beginning of a new phase in the Engineering Ambassadors program.  She said, “The continued relationship at CREC Two Rivers Magnet School will allow our Ambassadors to form relationships with the students and will provide them with role models in engineering.” She also said she is in the process of expanding the program.  “We have partnerships with multiple schools and we have requests from schools across the whole state that we will meet as time permits.”

The Engineering Ambassadors program is open to any engineering student and provides a great opportunity to give back to the community. For details, please contact Sonya Renfro at