CURENT Adventures for Pre-college Kids

Achievement date: 
2017
Outcome/accomplishment: 

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK) continues to conduct programs that engage local area students in grades Kindergarten through 12in learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). These educational outreach activities are sponsored by the Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) that is headquartered at UTK. CURENT emphasizes introducing students with present and anticipated energy-related issues, familiarizing them with possible engineering career paths, and encouraging problem-solving through creativity and an active imagination. 

Impact/benefits: 

Since their inception,CURENT’s pre-college programs have earned strong industry and community support and active participation. For example, AMS Corporation, a nuclear engineering consulting firm specializing in testing the instrumentation and control systems of nuclear power plants, hosted a field trip for the girls-only Adventure in STEM Summer Camp. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) have hosted laboratory tours for the Young Scholars (YS) and Research Experience for Teachers (RET) programs continuously for five years. In addition, Family Engineering Night (FEN) remains well received by the community with strong support from the middle and elementary schools, and has become a tradition for some of CURENT’s elementary school partners. Annually, CURENT hosts the FEN with an emphasis on schools located in inner city or rural areas with economically disadvantaged populations.

Explanation/Background: 

CURENT’s K-12 activities are aimed at promoting energy and engineering literacy in elementary schools, and inspiring students to explore engineering and science education by familiarizing them with engineering and related careers. The program also provides teachers and young scholars with research opportunities to advance their engineering knowledge. Thanks to these activities, the program has enabled the Center to develop long-term partnership with schools and introduce electrical, renewable energy, and power system concepts into classrooms.

The main program components are:

  • RET, which offers K-12 educators with a focus in STEM fields the opportunity to do research with CURENT faculty and graduate students for either an academic year or summer term.
  • YS gives high school students interested in electrical engineering a chance to perform research with CURENT faculty and graduate students in UTK campus laboratories.
  • FEN provides an opportunity for parental involvement, which is essential for a successful pre-college program. CURENT organizes FENs multiple times each year, inviting parents from the partner pre-college schools to experience the Center's research and education activities.
  • CURENT hosts multiple Summer Science Program activities aimed to spark interest in science, math, and engineering among young students. One program focuses on middle school girls, while others are open to all middle school students.

In addition, CURENT has developed an education website where materials for the pre-college program, including some developed by visiting teachers and UTK undergraduates, are available to help increase knowledge of engineering and the power grid. The Center also collaborates with university administrations and industry partners to sponsor partner middle and high schools for the Science Olympiad and other relevant events at the state level. Funds are allocated to support selected events proposed by partner middle and high schools.