Helping Students See Themselves in College STEM Programs

Students from the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering visited the University of Connecticut (UCONN) campus at Storrs today. We were hosted by the UCONN Engineering Ambassadors, a service organization made up of undergraduate engineering majors who do outreach to middle and high school students to show them what it takes to succeed at college as a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) major. The Ambassadors gave us an outstanding tour of the campus, they provided a panel discussion with a diverse group of engineering students, and they led us in some fun STEM challenges. The 8th grade academy students also got to tour UCONN’s cogeneration plant, a uniquely energy efficient power plant. This field trip gave the academy students a firsthand look at what it’s like to be an engineering major at a big university, and it taught them what it takes to succeed there. ┬áHere are photos from the trip:

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Helping Students See Themselves in STEM Careers

Students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering get many opportunities to see themselves pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers later on in life. I frequently let them know that a STEM career may not have the word “science,” “technology,” “engineering,” or “math” in the job title — any career can involve STEM skills if you have to explore new topics, think critically, or solve problems. Nevertheless, by majoring in one or more of the STEM disciplines in college, students are more likely to be able to use these skills in whatever career they choose. Additionally, employers are saying there are not enough STEM graduates to fill available positions, so students who major in STEM fields are much more likely to get multiple job offers.

One way we help academy students understand college STEM programs is by inviting in the UCONN Engineering Ambassadors. These are undergraduate engineering students at UCONN in Storrs, Connecticut, who volunteer to reach out to middle and high school students to explain what STEM is and what it’s like being a STEM major. They came to the academy two years ago, and we had three of them come to the academy this past week. One ambassador gave a presentation on how SpaceX is planning a massive worldwide internet service, then he explained how he had grown up in Haiti and New York City before coming to UCONN. The other two ambassadors explained how the Hubble Space Telescope works, and they also described their personal backgrounds. Our students were full of questions, and in the reflection afterwards, they showed they learned a lot about college STEM programs from the Engineering Ambassadors. Here are photos of the visit:

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We have follow on activities with the Engineering Ambassadors when we go to UCONN on a field trip later this month. They will give us tours, have a panel of students with whom our students can talk, and have some fun STEM activities for us. Overall, the Engineering Ambassadors do an outstanding job in helping students have a vision for STEM in college and beyond.

Another group that helps our students envision themselves in STEM careers are the UCONN engineering students in the local chapter of AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics). These students came to the academy last year, and they will come later this month to help mentor the 8th graders who are doing an AIAA engineering challenge and to speak to all our students about engineering at UCONN.

Finally, we have mentors and speakers come from various aerospace firms to the academy. This year so far, we have had mentors from PCX Aerostructures come in and mentor the 8th graders in the AIAA engineering challenge, and we will have a guest speaker for all students come from PCX, GKN Aerospace, and Sikorsky Aircraft. Additionally, we plan to visit Pratt & Whitney in December on a field trip, and the students will get to learn about careers there. All of these companies demonstrate how STEM graduates can have challenging and fulfilling careers.