This summer, I taught an introductory engineering course at SBU. As many people learn once they’re already looking for a job, engineers are in high demand. Most high-school students are not even sure what an engineer is or what they do. I didn’t realize I wanted to be an engineer until I had already completed a year in a liberal arts college. I transferred, but that set me far behind and I always wished somebody had exposed me to engineering earlier on. This class was meant to show students the wide variety of things that engineers do.
In the beginning, I realized it would be very difficult to introduce the idea of engineering to students with diverse schooling backgrounds and interests. By making the class very hands-on, I found the students were eager to participate. Each student found that they could contribute their individual talents and seemed to gain confidence with each successful project they designed.
We learned about mass, forces, acceleration, energy and many other concepts that engineers consider in their design process. Using everyday materials, students were instructed to use the skills that they had learned in conjunction with their creativity to complete tasks. Each project was a mini design competition and to make things interesting we had a running competition going throughout the summer.
Here are some examples of the projects the students completed:
The students came up with some pretty cool and creative designs. They learned how to think like engineers. When designing their racquets they started out just gluing a bunch of seemingly random supplies together. After playing with them, they realized they actually needed a flat surface in order to control the direction that they hit the ball. They had to adjust the handles and the hardness of the frame, and consider many things engineers think about when designing equipment. Eventually, they all built racquets that could be used for some pretty eventful ping-pong matches.
They were especially excited to see how engineering related to soccer. By watching videos that analyzed the science behind different players’ skills, they learned that they could actually use what we were doing in the classroom to improve their game. Of course, this also started a long debate on which player had the best skills. The students realized that they actually knew a lot of this stuff, but just hadn’t thought about it in a scientific way.
One of the reasons I love engineering is because no matter where you come from or where you are, it’s pretty much the same. Math and science are universal languages that transverse cultures. And for a program like SBU, it seemed like a perfect fit. A few of my students told me they plan to study engineering in college and that made my whole summer worthwhile.