The University of Wyoming College of Engineering and Applied Science is reaching out to young students throughout the state and around the country, introducing them to the field of engineering while fostering critical thinking and creative problem-solving.
Various initiatives — undertaken by the college throughout the year — are designed to get students and teachers excited about engineering opportunities, while recruiting the best students to UW, said Teddi Hofmann, the college’s outreach coordinator.
“We have a range of programs that serve kindergartners up through high school students,” she said. “… We want to give them those resources and those opportunities for exploration at a young age so that they are prepared not only for their K-12 education but ready to dive in deeper to engineering when they reach the college level.”
During Engineer’s Week each February, Hofmann and the college encourage teachers and engineers around Wyoming to work together. Engineers throughout the state visit their local third-grade classrooms to teach the students about their particular field of engineering and guide them through a hands-on project.
These projects teach students to identify a problem, design a solution, then build and test a prototype, Hofmann said.
“They worked through the engineering design process and built these little model cars using mints, popsicle sticks, straws and index cards,” she said. “So, obviously it’s a very basic prototype, but the idea with building these cars is that they worked through the engineering design process.”
Meeting an engineer from one’s own community is a great way to introduce a student to the world of engineering, Hofmann said. Additionally, the program serves to inspire some students who would otherwise be inclined to avoid engineering.
“One girl specifically, from Sheridan, wrote a thank-you note to the engineers, saying ‘You know, I thought engineering was just a guy job, but now I know I can do it, too. I can build buildings in my own community,’” Hofmann said.
The college also reaches out to high school students.
UW hosts a summer camp every June geared toward high school students between their junior and senior years. The engineering summer program — 2017 marks its 30th year — invites gifted students from across the U.S. to explore engineering opportunities in the west, while giving attendees a feel for college life at UW, said Jeff Anderson, assistant academic professional lecturer for the college and summer program organizer.
“It’s really a program that’s designed to inspire future engineers, to give them an opportunity to learn about engineering, careers in engineering, learn about the University of Wyoming and the College of Engineering and Applied Science,” Anderson said.
Roughly half the summer program’s 35 attendees — selected after a competitive application process — are from Wyoming. The rest are from Colorado, California, Nebraska, Virginia and New York.
“We really focus on attracting top students, ones that are really likely to be successful in engineering,” Anderson said.
The high school students attend classes taught by engineering professors and graduate students while staying in the residence halls and eating meals at the Washakie Dining Center, as they would if they were UW students.
“Students get to explore what engineering out in the field looks like, what petroleum engineers kind of focus on,” Anderson said. “Then during the evenings, they have a variety of activities — some which are just geared to get to know each other and some which are geared to show off what the College of Engineering and Applied Science does as far as research.”
Students attending the summer program also have chances to meet one-on-one with instructors and students in the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
“Not only are they gaining exposure to what it’s like to pursue engineering at the college level, but they are getting a basic daily life of what it means to be a college student,” Hofmann said.
The college also hosts a separate camp — geared toward teachers — in July. The engineering summer program for teachers invites instructors from across the state to learn about engineering and how to teach it. The event, which drew 50 attendees in 2016, plans to host roughly 100 this month.
Divided into two week-long camps, the first week brings in first-time attendees, while the second invites back teachers who participated in the program in 2016 to build upon their skill set.
The program includes two follow-up sessions, one in the fall and one in the spring.
“The goal with having those follow-up workshops is just to check in again with the teachers, just to make sure that if they have any sort of technical questions, or need assistance, that we can provide that one-on-one interaction and in-person interaction,” Hofmann said. “And then we also want to share what everyone’s been doing to learn about what maybe another teacher’s doing in a similar school.”
The college plans to do even more to reach these communities and is currently developing a K-12 ambassador program that puts engineering students at UW in contact with elementary and high school students throughout the state.
“I also want to give these kids the opportunity to meet with current students,” she said. “They can see a little bit more of them self in those engineering students, so maybe one day they’ll consider pursuing the career as well.”
The goal of all these programs is to increase interest in the field of engineering while recruiting the best students to UW, Hofmann said.