What Makes Outreach Work
Even if the NAE found reason to wonder what $400 million a year in engineering outreach was actually buying, engineering societies continue to put lots of thought and time into crafting activities and programs appealing to K-12 audiences. Among the best of these, several common attributes recur:
- Substantive training and support for volunteers participating in classroom activities
- Off-the-shelf, high-quality outreach and standards-based teaching materials
- Rich online information sources accessible through attractive, functional user interfaces
- Engaging online content and messaging calibrated to specific audiences
Some Activities that Hit
In alphabetical order, here are eight examples of engaging, effective engineering outreach activity at engineering societies. They range from full-contact programs to web portals to curriculum to multifaceted websites and speak to the wealth of creativity and commitment that societies bring to the task of outreach.
Who doesn’t like games? At the American Society of Civil Engineers, “ASCEville” leads with a scavenger hunt taking kids through all the ways that civil engineers help conserve energy, manage traffic, preserve natural resources, and generally make a city serve the needs of all the people who live and work there. Pictures bring to life the history of civil engineering projects around the world, and there’s lots of information for kids and parents about what civil engineers do and how to become one. “ASCEville” offers rich multimedia information for multiple audiences in an engaging, attractive package.
The Society of Women Engineers has assembled some of the richest and most varied online outreach materials for the next generation of women to enter engineering. The society’s Aspire project helps parents and teachers inform and guide young women in their understanding and possible pursuit of engineering as a field of study and work. SWE does especially well combining their own resources – learning and information materials, scholarships, connections to SWE members – with outside groups’ resources presented in a nicely integrated, user-friendly way. This is something many other societies seem to struggle with, but SWE put a lot of thought and effort into making the web portal approach work for their audiences’ needs.
3. Decision Point Dialogues – Critical Thinking, Critical Choices: What Really Matters in STEM
Online videos from ASME of fascinating discussions, led by NPR journalist John Hockenberry, address the STEM education debates from all kinds of angles. Is there really a crisis in STEM education? What is the ultimate goal of STEM education? How do we make it better? Policy, international testing results, reaching underserved communities – the series touches on the myriad issues surrounding STEM education today. Panelists include Yannis Miaoulis, President and Director of the Boston Museum of Science, James Douglas, former Governor of Vermont, Tamara Hudgins, Executive Director of Girlstart, Michele Lezama, Executive Director of the National GEM Consortium, Mark Conner, Director of Online and Engineering Academies at Hoover High School in Alabama, and other notable leaders, scholars, and commentators in STEM education.
While some of the contents are getting dated, this site from ASEE has a beautiful design and lots of resources for students and teachers. For students, “Engineer Your Path” provides a wealth of information from many perspectives about what it’s really like to study engineering. A “Student Blog” details all kinds of cool, engineering-related news items, many involving engineering students that could have classroom relevance.
The SHPE Jr. Chapter Program from the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers supports future Hispanic engineers now in middle and high school. The program works to create something like an ecosystem, promoting soft skills and self-awareness as well as offering hands-on STEM learning experiences. Communication, networking, professionalism, and other similar topics make up the soft skills dimension. The self-awareness thread works to prepare students for college success, addressing learning styles, first-generation college-going, the admissions process, and related questions. And the hands-on activities cover STEM topics of all kinds.
The flagship effort of the Pre-College Initiative at the National Society of Black Engineers, the SEEK Program offers, for free, a three-week, residential engineering camp experience to late elementary and middle school students at multiple locations across the country. In 2014, NSBE staged SEEK activities in 11 cities, up from four in 2013. Over 3,500 students have participated since the program started in 2007. Role models, immersion in engineering project work, and fun peer groups make SEEK a uniquely rich experience with lasting impact on the kids who participate.
Among the various searchable databases of engineering-related information, this one from IEEE is among the best. Nicely designed with easy user tools, TryEngineering can help kids and teachers understand what engineering is all about and how they can find the right path into the field. The site offers information about majors, extracurricular engineering-related activities, college and university programs, lesson plans for teachers, and several, extensively designed online games.
The hallmark program of the Society of Automotive Engineers, A World in Motion is one of the longest-running, widely active K-12 programs. Focused on K-8, this teacher-led, volunteer-supported, standards-based program immerses students in grade-appropriate engineering design challenges. With topics ranging from pinball game design to paper sailboat construction to fuel cell development, the program involves students in the entire cycle of engineering design tasks. Over 4 million students have participated in 16,000 U.S. and Canadian schools in over 20 years of operations.
What outreach programs do you like at engineering societies? Have you had experience with any of the ones listed here? Please share any thoughts or tips on other programs in the comments or send them directly to us.
Eric Iversen is VP for Learning and Communications at Start Engineering. He has written and spoken widely on engineering education in the K-12 arena. A recovering English major, he thinks the Internet-age marriage of communications and technology is, well, really cool. You should write to him about this area, especially when he gets stuff wrong, at firstname.lastname@example.org.