Young engineering explorers visit Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- More than 30 middle and high school students from Tioga Explorers, Inc., an engineering outreach program based in Owego, New York, toured various STEM-related facilities at the University Park campus on April 14 as part of Engineering Explorers Day.

Organized by a group of students enrolled in ENGR 408: Leadership Principles as part of a class project, the day began with a tour of the Factory for Advanced Manufacturing Education in the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.

The young students also visited the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP), where they heard from Sven Bilén, head of SEDTAPP and professor of engineering design, electrical engineering and aerospace engineering.

Bilén spoke about engineering at Penn State and passed out littleBits kits to provide students with a hands-on activity centered around electrical engineering and circuits. The littleBits are magnetic building blocks that are used for prototyping products and learning, and can include things such as buzzers, dimmers, sound triggers, batteries, mounting boards, USB cables, oscillators, micro sequencers, etc., to create lighting sources, instruments, weather dashboards, synth kits and more.

Following lunch on Old Main lawn, the students toured the MorningStar Solar Home and the Advanced Vehicle Team garage, and they participated in another hands-on challenge planned by the Penn State students that involved using a lemon and a piece of copper wire to create a chemical reaction that results in electricity.

"While we were setting up events for the students throughout the day, I was putting myself in their shoes, where I was just a few years ago, and thinking about how helpful an event like this would have been for me," said Hanna Scanlon, one of the student organizers of the event. "This project also made me realize how far I've come from being in high school and not really knowing what I wanted to do to being able to talk about my senior design project, the EcoCAR3 Camaro, as if this is what I was destined to do."

In addition to tours of Penn State facilities, the students also visited some favorite campus locations, including Berkey Creamery, the HUB Bookstore and the Lion Shrine.

"This leadership principles course is the entry course for the Engineering Leadership Development minor. We designed this course to provide knowledge and skills in key leadership competencies that are then applied in a technical project," said Meg Handley, associate director of engineering leadership outreach within SEDTAPP.

"In this case, our leadership students coordinated this tour to help educate middle- and high-school students on technical concepts and potential careers within the engineering profession. This was a learning experience for both our guests and our current students."

The student organizers of the event include Anna French (industrial engineering), Whitney Imoh (chemical engineering), Jordan Loya (civil engineering), Melissa Martin (mechanical engineering), Tyler Russell (computer science) and Scanlon (mechanical engineering). Each student is also pursuing the Engineering Leadership Development minor.

To view photos from the day, please see the photo album.

Sponsored by Lockheed Martin's Rotary and Mission Systems program, Tioga Explorers is a non-profit organization that strives to educate students about STEM-careers through hands-on projects, facility tours and engineering mentors. The organization offers three primary STEM programs for students: Engineering Explorers (grades 9-12), Junior Engineering Explorers (grades 6-8) and Summer Software Explorers (grades 7-12).

For more information about Tioga Explorers, visit their website.

—Pamela Krewson Wertz