Hands-on ERC Events Cultivate Students’ STEM Roots

Achievement date: 
2014
Outcome/accomplishment: 

Lucky students had the chance to participate in a variety of exciting K-12 STEM activities organized by the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials (RMB), headquartered at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. ERC-RMB’s ongoing collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) Department of Bioengineering and the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Institute (PTEI) provided additional learning opportunities for these students.

Impact/benefits: 

K-12 STEM activities are organized by ERC-RMB to bring awareness of bioengineering education and related careers to K-12 students while encouraging creativity and innovation, diversity in thinking, and entrepreneurship. Participant assessments indicate success with the overall experience, enhanced understanding of complex concepts such as the relationship between human tissue and engineering, and increased enthusiasm for pursuing STEM-related learning and employment. 

Explanation/Background: 

The ERC-RMB’s vision includes preparing a creative, innovative, and globally competitive diverse workforce for the United States biomedical device industry. Among the activities offered students in the Center’s educational outreach program were: a day-long Girl Scout Workshop; an Introduce-A-Girl-to-Engineering event during Engineers Week 2012 at a science magnet school; a 2-day “Science Extravaganza” event at a local elementary school; a Society of Women Engineers outreach event at the Greensboro Children’s Museum; and, hosted visits from/to several local schools by ERC-RMB students and staff.

In addition, a highlight of ERC-RMB’s educational efforts is the Bio-Engineering Institute High School Summer Camp at North Carolina A&T, and a similar camp as well as a middle school camp at Pitt. This is a 5-day commuter camp with intensive, hands-on learning experiences for campers—a diverse group of high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors from geographically disparate locations throughout North Carolina.

This program is the result of a unique level of collaboration among North Carolina A&T, Pitt, and PTEI. All activities were developed by bioengineering students and camp instructors included bioengineering undergraduate and graduate students and faculty from Pitt as well as North Carolina A&T, and faculty from PTEI. The learning modules cover a wide variety of topics under the biomedical engineering umbrella, such as stem cells, blood vessel synthesis, how to use current biotechnology laboratory equipment, and bioethics. The complexity and difficulty of the modules increased as the week progressed. The camp was formatted from a developmental perspective, i.e., as campers completed activities, special emphasis was placed on the importance of teamwork, collaboration, and “thinking outside the box.” As in an actual research laboratory, campers would continue studies or activities in the lab from day to day.