Virtual STEM Family Night During the Pandemic

Achievement date: 

Engineering students and instructors at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK) collaborated with four local elementary schools to host a virtual Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Family Night to engage their students in fun engineering-related learning activities. The activity was held virtually to allow all to participate despite the COVID pandemic. It was supported by the Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT), an NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) supported by NSF and the U.S. Department of Energy, and headquartered at UTK.


Part of CURENT's mission is to give pre-college students access to engineering and the chance to experience fun engineering-related activities at an early age. The goal is to connect the student to the idea that engineering is an exciting field of study that opens up a new world of academic and career opportunities. Family Engineering Nights fit into that mission by collaborating with local schools and offering a variety of hands-on engineering exhibits for K-8 students and their families. At this event, students were engaged in creating a water engine to illustrate Newton's Second Law of Motion, which is that acceleration (gaining speed) happens when a force acts on a mass (object); playing with balls to learn about momentum; and many more topics. Activity kits were sent home to students who registered, and nearly 60 families (including some with multiple children) attended the event. Spanish-language information was also provided. It was a positive experience for the families. One of the school coordinators said, "It was such a wonderful event! I heard great feedback from a few of our families, and my own kids L0VED hanging out with the cool college kids!"


Engaging a new generation of electric power and energy systems engineering leaders is an essential aspect of CURENT's work to advance transmission grid performance that is reliable, efficient, cost-effective, and takes advantage of renewable energy sources. Family Engineering Night is an event designed to promote engineering to K-8 students and engage them in various fun, real-world examples of how engineering affects the world around us. It is a good resource for schools working to improve STEM awareness and that want to motivate students to consider engineering an interesting, dynamic, and impactful future profession.

This event also involved students in a UTK class built around applying the engineering design process within the context of K-12 education through engagement with local schools. Their work includes developing, refining, and implementing programming to teach K-12 students aspects of engineering. The students work collaboratively with the schools to develop plans and materials for Family Engineering Night.