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Engineering Students Enjoy Exposing Visitors to STEM During EOH 2014

Springfield youth tinkers with circuits during the 2014 EOH.
A Springfield youth tinkers with a circuit during the 2014 EOH.

March 14, 2014

Among the thousands of folks who made the pilgrimage to the Illinois campus to attend "Transform Your World," the 94th annual Engineering Open House (EOH) on March 14 and 15, 2014, were a couple of Springfield, Illinois mothers who wanted to give their sons a little extra exposure to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

For example, Angie Hyde brought her son Jacks. Says Hyde, "This was an opportunity to come over to see the engineering program." Jacks participates in IMSA (Illinois Math and Science Academy), an after-school program that meets meets once a week and exposes the kids to engineering, science, and math as well. Hyde indicates that visiting EOH was their one big field trip for the year.

While it was early in the day (they were only on their second exhibit), she indicates that the kids were quite excited.

"Yes, they are loving it. They've already picked up a little electronic engine that they are taking home with them to build. So, yes, they're excited."

Does her son have an interest in engineering or science? She reports that exposure to STEM activities had increased his interest:

"He didn't until he got into the IMSA program, and now, he does, yes."

Illinois student Kaylin Moy does a Physics Coaster exhibit with a youngster. While playing, he learned a bit about potential energy, kinetic energy, and friction.
Illinois student Kaylin Moy works with a youngster experimenting with the Physics Coaster exhibit. While sending toy vehicles rolling down the the Physics Coaster, he learned a bit about potential energy, kinetic energy, and friction.

Sarah Allen, also from Springfield, brought her son Jack for the same reasons—to give him additional exposure to STEM.

"He's part of the IMSA program and loves science, and I just thought he would really like it—and so far, so good." Her son, who loves music, was tinkering with an exhibit that allowed him to play synthesized music.

Has her son expressed an interest in engineering or science? "Yes," reports Allen, "but he is only in 7th grade. We are not quite thinking career wise yet. But, yes, he loves math and science."

Gillermo Acevedo and Thomas Navidi by the model of the new ECE building they built for EOH 2014.
Gillermo Acevedo and Thomas Navídí by the model of the new ECE building they built for EOH 2014.

One EOH exhibit that seemed to be a favorite with visitors was a model of the new ECE building built by two engineering sophomores: Thomas Navídí, in ECE, and Guillermo Acevedo, in Structural Engineering. Evidently checking out the model's miniature people and playing with its lights were a big draw for kids.

Structural engineer Acevedo used his expertise to build the model, while Navídí concentrated on the electrical. "Thomas came to me with the idea to build the project of the building, that it would be a nice way to showcase the electrical engineering building," reports Acevedo.

Huize Li
Illinois student Huize Li poses by his EOH exhibit which deals with evaporators.

2014 was Acevedo's first time to do an exhibit in EOH. He didn't do EOH last year, but he did check out the exhibits. He reports attending when he was younger: "I also came two years ago when I was in high school looking at all of the exhibits, and this year was exciting that I got to participate."

Acevedo indicates visiting EOH as a high schooler had an impact on his choosing Illinois, and Civil Engineering in particular. "No, I hadn't made up my mind yet, but I came here, and I stayed for two days, and I saw all the projects, and all of the engineering things that were going on, and I got to see more of the Civil Engineering Department. So that did have a big impact on me coming here. "

How did the two end up doing a model of the new ECE building for their project? It turns out Navídí's professor is on the board of directors for the building and says no physical models had yet been built, "So, it's really nice that he has this one," says Navídí.

So what will happen to the model after EOH? Navídí isn't sure.

"My professor didn't really tell me his plans for afterwards, but a lot of people were saying they might want to keep it around and showcase it somewhere else later."

Does Navídí believe attending EOH can influence youngsters to choose engineering as a career?

"Maybe," says Navídí."I actually heard a lot of elementary school students who said they were interested in modeling. So seeing that even in electrical engineering, you can do fun things like modeling as a hobby, that probably helps them realize that you can still have fun and do electrical engineering.

Niranjna Srekumar
Illinois student Niranjana Sreekumar poses by her EOH exhibit, an old-style movie projector.

Navídí even did a little recruiting himself. "Actually, one kid who came here, who was a high schooler, was asking about the model, and I told him it was funded by companies and the department. So telling him that made him realize that since the department is so highly ranked, there's plenty of funding around, and it is a really good department to be in."

Another ECE student, senior Niranjana Sreekumar, staffed an exhibit which was a demonstration of the first sound and film reels before sound was actually part of movies. Sreekumar, who plans to work after she graduates, then go on to graduate school, has participated in EOH all four years that she's been at Illinois. Why does she do EOH? "It is exciting," she says. "I love convincing student to come here: 'Look, we are so cool; why would you not do engineering?'"

"I like that we have cool inventions," she continues, "and we are inspired to do the same and come up with new things—like work with a micro controller and programming small things and just like projects that we do in class. All of them are so much fun, and we do a lot of outside classes like these EOH projects; we work on them besides class. None of this is part of our classes, so it's amazing."

Lauren Zelaya taking a thermal image of this reporter (projected on the screen behind her.)
Lauren Zelaya taking a thermal image of this reporter taking a photograph of her (projected on the screen behind her.)

Lauren Zelaya, a freshman from DeKalb, Illinois, who is studying Chemical Engineering staffed an EOH exhibit on thermal imaging. Using a thermal imaging device, she "photographed" EOH visitors' thermal images.

Zelaya never attended EOH before, even in high school. "I did not; so this was a new experience for me completely."

Zelaya was also enjoying exposing youngsters to STEM: "This is so great for getting children into science and engineering already at this age, I think it's so cool to encourage them to go into the sciences."

Huize Li, in his third year in Mechanical Engineering, was enjoying sharing some of what he's learned with folks outside the university.

"Actually what's most interesting for me is communication with the high school students, because they seem to be really excited when I explain the principles of our equipment, our research subject …This is the first time I really got a chance to communicate, and they are just great. They are curious about everything, and it is a great honor for me that I can explain the knowledge that I learned from school to them."

Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.
More: Engineering Open House, K-12 Outreach, 2014

A young visitor to EOH 2014 plays with the lights in a model of the new ECE building.
A visitor to EOH 2014 controls the lights in a model of Illinois' new ECE building built by Thomas Navídí and Gillermo Acevedo.