Just One Question: Have you been involved in any activity that encourages children or teens to pursue engineering or science?
If you’re a civil engineer in the construction industry, it’s easy to capture the interest of kids. Several years ago I met with the class of one of my granddaughters. I believe they were fourth-graders, but the approach can be tailored to any level. I first introduced a carpenter’s tool belt supplied with all the usual tools. This was greeted with great enthusiasm. I then passed around tapes and other instruments for measuring distances and angles. Next we discussed job safety and handled hardhats, goggles, safety harnesses, and an unexpected favorite: masks to protect the mouth and face from dust. Once I had a captive audience I introduced plans of a fairly simple six-story apartment house: first the architectural drawings, which make it clear what the building looks like in plan and elevation; next the structural plans with beams and reinforcing rods; and finally the mechanical plans, plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and elevators. This led into a discussion of design—the strength of beams, the efficiency of air conditioning, etc.—the role of engineers, and the need for math, chemistry, physics, and computer science. At this point you take the group as far into the technical as you can without losing them. My “teaching career” ended before the introduction of BIM, the 3D computer modeling of a proposed building, but that remarkable development would surely have an important role in any discussion today.
Naturally, when you leave you have to be prepared to leave that tool belt and other props behind!
—Sam Florman ’46 Th’46
Since I started Dartmouth some 69 years ago and graduated from Thayer School 64 years ago, I am no longer involved with youngsters now other than family. I do have one grandson (now 30) who went to Swarthmore and became a civil engineer and another grandson (15) who I will encourage to study science and engineering when he considers colleges in a couple of years. However, having retired some 20-plus years ago, I am out of touch with current engineering and its modern practice in this electronic world. Therefore I would not be able to do much encouragement with young people—that should be done by younger persons who can better relate to present-day young people and can stress the enjoyable and challenging aspects of science and engineering.
—Bob Keane ’47 Tu’48
The only thing I do in this regard is to make regular contributions to the SME (Society of Mechanical Engineers) Education Foundation, which does a lot!
—Foxhall Parker ’48 Th’49
I am on the board of directors of a middle school in New Haven, Conn., called St. Martin de Porres Academy. The school is private, tuition-free, and supported by donations from private citizens. I have mentored some kids and teachers. I think some possibilities exist for the kids through their science studies in areas that I believe are far beyond what they are currently taught. For example, the activity at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva (quantum physics) could be fascinating to students if presented in a kid-friendly way. I could just see a cartoon figure named Mr. Higgs Boson as the star of the show; I believe kids would be as fascinated as I am in these topics if presented in a cartoonish manner.
—Bart Lombardi ’52 Th’54
I have been involved with a program that could lead middle school kids to a science career. A number of years ago the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) established a program for students in the middle schools of New England called Junior Solar Sprint wherein teams of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders would build and race solar car models on a 50-foot line-guided run.
Each student would be given a 6-inch-by-12-inch solar panel and an electric motor, and with help from science teachers and engineers like me they would proceed to build their models and then race them in a statewide competition. My engineering background is ideal for this kind of mentoring. I used to work at Yardney Technical Products, where I was program manager for electric vehicle battery development and owned and operated my own electric-powered van for a number of years. Since 1990 I have been a consultant in the field of alternative fuel vehicles (AFV), and have been responsible for a number of major Clean Cities projects, including AFV educational programs in the Norwich, Conn., public schools and at the UN International Children’s Conference on the Environment. My associate, also a mechanical engineer, and I have assisted the kids for the past 15 years on this program. We typically go to their classrooms at the beginning and talk about the engineering principles involved with model design (weight, friction, gear and shaft alignment, energy conversion). When their models are nearly complete, we help them put on the finishing touches and fine-tune them for the race. The kids from our local schools have done remarkably well through the years, almost always placing in the top three in the speed event, plus winning other awards for design innovation, among others. My associate and I have received some nice accolades for our work assisting the kids. Unfortunately, NESEA has discontinued its K-12 education program. The program is still supported to a limited extent by the U.S. Army, and in Connecticut continues under regional support.
—John Kennedy ’53 Th’54
Somewhere around 1973 Dean Carl Long asked the Dartmouth Society of Engineers (DSE) for help in encouraging high school students to apply to Dartmouth with the intention of going to Thayer School. Dean Long felt that he was losing too many students to math and physics. As president of DSE, I helped organize an orientation meeting at a home in Hartsdale, N.Y. We queried the various high schools in Westchester County, N.Y., to send juniors with engineering aptitude. Dean Long made the trip to Hartsdale to make his pitch.
—Harlan Fair Th’54
—Pete Knoke ’55 Th’56
I have funded three scholarships awarded annually in perpetuity to a family member of a service person by the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), under the umbrella of the MOAA scholarship fund. I request that the awardee intends to pursue a four-year academic program at an accredited college or university leading to the award of an engineering or engineering sciences degree primarily or a degree in the physical sciences secondarily. Each awardee receives $500 in cash and a $3,000 loan annually. There is no interest charged on the loan until the student graduates. I have also left a legacy (two variable annuities), one half of which is to fund as many $25,000 scholarships as possible from the proceeds at the time of my death. The primary reason I selected this organization and this scholarship is that every dollar is given to the awardee(s); MOAA doesn’t take any money for overhead or other purpose.
Two of my grandsons are engineers. One attended Vanderbilt and works as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the other graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and is a co-pilot with Delta and an active aviator in the U.S. Navy Reserve. A grandson-in-law is an aeronautical engineer and a civilian employee of the Army at Redstone Arsenal.
—Arv Hickerson ’56 Th’57
My grandchildren are doing very well in math and science. I encourage them and provide all necessary tools—computers and websites. I also assist them in science projects, which have earned them blue ribbons. However, the cost of school is skyrocketing. If we want more scientist and engineers, perhaps tuition and cost breaks would help.
—Don Jansky ’62 Th’63
The best program for students is the one founded by Dean Kamen, the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), which last year attracted close to 300,000 students. My older son was born an engineer. He spent more time at 3 years old looking behind the merry-go-round than riding it. He went to Bellarmine Prep and joined its FRC team. He won the world championship in 2011 as operator and then went to Missouri University of Science and Technology. My younger son joined a robotics team as well. He just finished freshman year at Bellarmine and became operator as a freshman. That team made it to the finals of their division at the world championship in St. Louis, Mo. They have a great website at team254.com. Bellarmine is very fortunate in that it is sponsored by NASA Ames and has the resources of a private Catholic school and some big donors. It also attracts some of the best students from Silicon Valley, but still critical is parental involvement. Invaluable are the mentors in industry and college, most of whom were not paid in the past.
—Andrew “Kip” Sides ’77 Th’78
My team at Azarias International—I’m the president—is developing a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) program for schools and colleges. We’re researching an advanced STEM development concept that will pair high school students with graduate students for collaboration on real-world projects. This approach leverages the best of individual and institutional strengths to help students discover their natural gifts and passions within a STEM education setting. Our STEM concept aligns sponsors, colleges, and schools on an institutional level and connects students, teachers, and professors on an individual level. Each student accomplishment will be stored electronically in a secure STEM portfolio. Sample projects are environmental and global resource analysis, mathematics modeling and analysis of Internet traffic, biochemistry/healthcare clinical research assistance, and information security analysis and design.
Schools benefit by gaining access to low-cost STEM mentors, faster adoption of online resources by teachers, enrichment of course materials through filtered online resources, course-consistent material for extracurricular activities, and new funding sources through corporate sponsorship. Colleges benefit by developing graduate student interest in STEM teaching, creating additional funding sources for professors, building stronger school relationships, and increasing application submissions through long-term student relationships. Sponsors benefit by directing funds toward targeted regions and specialized fields of study, tracking specific student achievements, obtaining granular STEM life cycle metrics, hiring greater numbers of better trained U.S. STEM graduates in targeted fields, and accessing low-cost research resources.
We are in the process of developing a Phase 1 National Science Foundation grant proposal to research the viability of the portal and portfolio. We will be inviting up to five schools and five colleges to participate in this research and development over the next two to three years. If anyone is interested in participating or if you have any comments or suggestions for improvement, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Mark Tuttle ’80 Th’82
I am a structural engineering professor at Vermont Technical College and a licensed consulting structural engineer. My work involves teaching, performing, or researching the design and analysis of bridges, buildings, and other structures. Last year I became the Southeast Vermont Chapter coordinator for MATHCOUNTS, a national mathematics competition for middle school (sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade) students. Students, who are called “Mathletes,” compete both individually and on teams to perform mathematics problems ranging from easy to extremely challenging. The experience, which is fun for all involved, rewards them for their mastery of mathematics. It also allows me and my fellow volunteers—including engineering students from Vermont Tech and Norwich University—to show them how mathematics relates to engineering so that they can consider engineering as an educational and career path. There is also a chance for me to let the students know what the letters “P.E.” after a person’s name mean, because many have no idea what a professional engineer is. There are regional, statewide, and national levels of competition, and MATHCOUNTS is sponsored, in part, by the National Society of Professional Engineers, of which I am a member.
The greatest challenge with kids this age is working within a schedule broken into short bursts of activity with snack breaks in-between. They are not yet at the age where sitting down for multiple hours of activity is their nature. The most unexpected element of the competition is how incredibly quick and bright many of the students are, solving complicated problems without calculators faster than many of the practicing engineers in the room can!
—Scott Sabol ’88 Th’88
My 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter like LEGO robotics using the LEGO NXT kit; 3D animation and CAD using Maya; and programming with Scratch, Python, and pygame. Scratch has a YouTube-like site that allows you to share your creations, and my son has posted several games he has written. They also like to program using Alice and HTML and model fluids with OE-cake. When they were younger they enjoyed building simple electronic circuits using snap circuits, and they went to Camp Invention and various science camps at their school.
—Suchitra Ram ’91 Th’92
I help students at Duke University in the electrical and computer engineering laboratories. A video is on YouTube.
—Kip Coonley Th’99
Our community is fortunate to have a company named Med Associates and its affiliate, Catamount Research and Development, based in St. Albans, Vt., that performs contract research and development for the biomedical research community. The president of Catamount, Dr. Gerald Herrera, runs a program called Catamount Kids to “give children an opportunity to explore science and the natural world.” I was invited this spring to present the chemistry of dental caries and the role that fluoride plays in helping to prevent dental decay.
We conducted an experiment evaluating the effects of fluoride treatment in preventing the dissolution of eggshells exposed to acid solution (soda). Another fun demonstration we did is testing the pH of various beverages to show the kids how their diet choices also affect their risk for dental decay. We do a similar presentation at some of the public elementary schools in our corner of northwestern Vermont.
—Richard Dickinson ’00 Th’01
Since 2006 I have given presentations on space exploration to elementary school children in northern New Jersey almost annually. I started doing these talks when I was a grad student at Purdue, pursuing my M.S. and Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. (I am currently a propulsion development engineer at SpaceX.) I always wrap up the presentation explaining to the students that they are the future leaders of space exploration. During the most recent talk, at least half of the female students stated that they want to be the first woman to walk on the moon. Every time I give this talk I see a lot of excitement in the students’ faces.
—Erik Dambach ’04 Th’05
I’ve been involved with a high school outreach program that presents to math and science classes about structural engineering. It’s a one-time presentation followed by a hands-on building activity to show students what we do and let them know the best path to pursue if they are interested by what we do. (I am a designer at Degenkolb Engineers, where I design new buildings and retrofit existing buildings to meet and exceed current seismic building design standards.)
We do a contest with a certain number of toothpicks and mini marshmallows and see which group can build the tallest structure in 15 minutes. It’s great for team building, communication, brainstorming, and thinking about basic geometric shapes. We also ask them before they start to think about the project limits, so they do some quick math with 250 toothpicks and 100 marshmallows end-to-end to determine the limiting factor. If you could make the structure end to end, how long could it be, approximating the length of a toothpick as 2 inches? They usually have a lot of fun with it! I also recently talked to a Boy Scout troop about one of my buildings and gave them a tour of the construction site for an engineering badge. They were some of the most curious kids I’ve worked with! They had some good questions: What is the best type of building to be in during an earthquake? Why is glass a bad material to use in earthquakes? How do you get that tractor out from inside the building? We were on the job site when they asked that last question, and it was a great way to get them thinking about the building process as well as design.
—Laura Weyl Th’08