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WVU Tech students and faculty showcase STEM fields, celebrate National Engineers Week

In a month packed with outreach events, the students and faculty of WVU Tech’s Leonard C. Nelson College of Engineering and Sciences are showing young students their potential in STEM fields and celebrating National Engineers Week (February 21-27).

Discover Engineering Day 2015 brought in hundreds of visitors to Charleston’s Clay Center.Discover Engineering Day 2015 brought in hundreds of visitors to Charleston’s Clay Center.

On Tuesday, February 9, members of WVU Tech’s Association for Women Engineers, Scientists, or Mathematicians Empowerment (AWESOME), visited the Culture Center in Charleston for Girls’ Day at the Legislature.

AWESOME members taught students from Cabell Midland High School about computer coding and robotics. They also worked with the students on action plans addressing education concerns and ways female students could better explore the career options available to them.

On Saturday, February 20, dozens of Tech students and faculty members will participate in Discover Engineering Day at the Clay Center in Charleston. Attendees will learn about electrocardiograms, how studying aquatic insects can help determine the health of a stream and how binary and hexadecimal code is used in computing. They’ll also pilot robots using Wii Fit balance boards, build circuits, construct bridges, learn about chromatography, generate electricity with Gatorade, explore how engines work and check out WVU Tech’s popular Baja racing buggy.

Discover Engineering Day runs from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday, February 20. Girl Scout groups will have early access to the event from 9 – 11 a.m.

The Thursday of National Engineers Week is designated as Girl Day, and to celebrate, BridgeValley Community and Technical College will host its annual  Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day on February 25 at the Columbia Pipeline Group building in Charleston. The event brings in eighth-grade girls from throughout Southern West Virginia to work on engineering projects and connect with women who are currently studying or working in engineering fields.

Dr. Kimberlyn Gray, assistant professor of chemical engineering, coordinates the University’s STEM and engineering outreach programs. She said that WVU Tech students and faculty are always excited to be a part of Girl Day because attendees often discover opportunities they never knew existed.

“We want to introduce them to engineering as a career, but this is also a chance for these girls to meet women in engineering who come from a variety of backgrounds and hold a tremendous range of interests outside of engineering. They’ll see that you don’t have to be a particular type of person to be an engineer,” she said.

Gray said that WVU Tech’s celebration of STEM and career outreach will continue in the days following National Engineers Week.

On February 29, fifth-graders from Chesapeake Elementary in Kanawha County will visit the Montgomery campus for a day of career exploration. They’ll meet with engineering, nursing, biology, computer science, political science and athletics faculty to discover career paths, conduct experiments and learn how the upcoming presidential election works.

BridgeValley CTC’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day connects eight-grade girls to women studying and working in engineering fields.BridgeValley CTC’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day connects eight-grade girls to women studying and working in engineering fields.

“A lot of the research that covers driving interest in STEM fields – particularly in engineering – shows that if you don’t capture their attention by the fifth grade, you lose students. They lose interest. That seems very early to us, but having a spark of interest catch at that age can help these students figure out what they really want to do later,” she said.

The following week, Gray will visit Tolsia High School in Wayne County. There, Gray and her group will teach biology students about gel electrophoresis (a method of separating DNA fragments using electricity), conduct experiments in the chemistry class and discuss the wide range of career options open to physics students.

“High school students are in a different situation. They know they’re good at math or science, but they don’t necessarily know what engineers do. They don’t know what the different disciplines within engineering involve,” said Gray. “We all know what doctors, police officers and teachers do because we see it every day, but engineering is often a very behind-the-scenes field. Events like this give them an opportunity to interact with college students in these fields and find out how their interests connect to these different disciplines.”

For WVU Tech mechanical engineering student Kaylah Bovard, this type of outreach reinforces the fundamentals college students learn in the classroom.

“When students are placed into an environment where they have to explain relatively complex ideas to younger minds, their knowledge of a subject is tested. Teaching opens up a whole new perspective on what you think you already know,” she said.

Gray said that WVU Tech’s STEM outreach is not limited to the spring semester, and that educators interested in bringing programs to their classrooms can contact her at kimberlyn.gray@mail.wvu.edu.

Those interested in more information on National Engineers Week can visit the Discover Engineers Week website. To mark this year’s celebration, WVU Tech will be featuring the stories of students and alumni from various engineering disciplines throughout the week on the WVU Tech News Archive.