Families Get Smart on the Grid at Engineering Night

Achievement date: 

Family Engineering Nights bring elementary and middle school families together with engineering researchers from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK) for hands-on projects that are educational, inspiring, and fun. These events are hosted bythe Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Network (CURENT), anEngineering Research Center(ERC) co-funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy and headquartered at the UTK.


Part of CURENT's mission is to acquaint precollege students with engineering and offer them a chance to experience and enjoy engineering-related activities at an early age. The goal is to provide a connection for the student with the idea that engineering is an exciting field of study that opens up a new world of academic and career opportunities. Family Engineering Night is one of CURENT's signature programs. CURENT hosts the event in local elementary and middle schools located in rural areas, the inner city, or wherever the education resources are needed. During the event, faculty, staff, graduate, and undergraduate student sexplain basic electricity concepts and alternative energy sources through hands-on projects with students, parents, and their family members. As of 2013, CURENT had hosted ten events and engaged 1,800 family members in the program over three years.


Family Engineering Nightsare sponsored by CURENT in collaboration with local schools. The Center visits the schools and sets up a variety of hands-on engineering exhibits for K-8 students and their families that are selected by teachers – such as solar cars, windmills, paper helicopters, homemade prosthetic hands, and bridges.Family Engineering Night events are usually held in a school gym, and activities are facilitated by schoolteachers and CURENT students and staff.

These events are a great way to supplement STEM-related projects in the school curriculum. They encourage students and their families to work together to solve exciting engineering challenges, and then take the conversation about the various fields of engineering home with them.