Peer-to-peer learning: CECS launches K-12 outreach program

May 9, 2014
CECS Boy Scout event

Extended Learning and Outreach partnered with the Computer Information Science Department last fall to host a computer science workshop for local Boy Scout troops. Photo by Evan Dougherty.

The Extended Learning and Outreach (ELO) department is turning legions of youngsters on to the exciting world of engineering and computer science through its innovative K-12 outreach program.

Since launching the program last June, CECS faculty, staff and students have connected with thousands of young boys and girls from across metro Detroit at events on and off the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus. The goal? Enlighten young people about engineering and computer science and encourage them to consider possible careers in these fields.

“We’re tilling the soil by exposing kids to engineering and computer science,” said Jeanne Girard, Extended Learning and Outreach director. “The kids learn that just about everything they use is engineered—from cars to cell phones to video games. When students connect engineering with things they find appealing and intriguing, it fuels their interest in STEM disciplines.”

ELO began its K-12 outreach efforts last July during Maker Faire Detroit at The Henry Ford. The two-day interactive event featured exhibits, demonstrations and hands-on workshops celebrating innovation and creativity. Many of the children who attended were enthusiastic about CECS’ computer gaming and robotics demonstrations.

ELO also partnered with UM-Ann Arbor’s College of Engineering and its Office of Engineering Outreach and Engagement to stage its Michigan Introduction to Engineering program. This half-day program exposed 10th and 11th graders to engineering and computer science disciplines and career opportunities. The 40 participating students from area schools learned the basics of computer logic, programmed a set of robots designed with parts printed from a 3D printer, viewed CNC drilling machines and test-drove the college’s driving simulator.

Last November, students from the Southfield University Preparatory High School Academy visited the college’s Institute for Advanced Vehicle Systems. About 150 8th and 9th grade students participated in activities highlighting the college’s engineering and CIS disciplines.

More than 200 juniors and seniors from 44 high schools across southeast Michigan came to the UM-Dearborn campus in March for the Engineering/Computer Science Experience. Teams competed in one of four areas:  robotics, computer programming, simulation and game design. The first-place winners in each category received a $2,000 partial tuition scholarship to CECS. Student participants also learned about CECS programs and met alumni working in the engineering and computer science fields.

“CECS student organizations—like the Intelligent Systems Club, Formula SAE team, and Society for Women Engineers—also provide support during outreach events,” Girard said. “High school students relate to our undergraduates on a peer-to-peer level, which is very helpful.”

ELO also partnered with the College for Creative Studies in Detroit on a unique six-week program for high school girls called Millennials for Mobility. Students from four area schools worked in teams to design cars that incorporated autonomous technologies and advanced safety features. This program emphasized artistic elements within the engineering discipline.

“Our first set of outreach programs was very effective,” Girard said. “We plan to partner with the College of Education and Health and Human Services to explore ways we can reach elementary school students. One idea is to hold workshops for teachers about how to best teach STEM concepts.”

Visit the Extended Learning and Outreach website to learn more about its outreach programs and continuing education services for engineering and computer science professionals.

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