EOH Visitors Discover that Engineering is Fun, Exciting, and Can Change the World

March 27, 2017

Above, Julia Schultz and her memory-metal-equipped origami crane.

Making the pilgrimage to Illinois to take part in Illuminate New Horizons, the 2017 edition of Engineering Open House (EOH), were thousands of visitors, young and old, including numerous classes on field trips, and lots of families. During the event, held on March 10–11, visitors encountered some of the faces of engineering, ranging from current engineering students from all across campus, to alumni, who were excited to come back to their alma mater to show visitors some of the exciting projects they’re currently involved in...and possibly do some recruiting. Exhibitors hoped to engage visitors in their demonstrations and exhibits, many of which included interesting hands-on activities, to show them not only the breadth of the field of engineering, but that it’s fun and exciting, and that engineers can change the world.

Scores of classes from nearby schools showed up on field trips to take advantage of EOH's myriad informal learning opportunities. Some came specifically to participate in contests organized by student organizations or the EOH committee itself.

During the Middle School Design Contest, an engineering student pours sand into a bucket to test the strength of one of the bridges designed for the contest.

For example, “Hail to the Orange, Hail to the Roof,” sponsored by the Engineering Outreach Society (EOS), brought more than 200 local 1st, 3rd, and 4th grade students to campus for the final event of a several-week-long project during which teams of students were to build houses strong enough to withstand a hail storm. During the final event on Friday, March 10th, EOS members tested their houses’ strength by bombarding them with “hail” stones to see which, if any, would be left standing.

Another contest, an EOH-sponsored Middle School Design Contest, gave schools the opportunity to form teams of middle school students to collaborate to build bridges. Held on Saturday, March 11th, the contest participants were on hand to watch engineering students attach a bucket to their bridge and add sand to see how much weight their bridge could hold.

The bridge contest was headed up Alix Ramos, a sophomore in Computer Engineering, who explains why she got involved.

“So last year I was an exhibitor at EOH, and I wanted to get more involved because I really loved it. And I wanted to be a part of putting it on,” she explains.

Last year, Ramos was involved in EOS' outreach program, similar to "Hail to the Roof" above, where Illinois engineering students visit schools and teach kids basic engineering concepts, then bring them to EOH as their guests. She shares why she finds outreach events for younger students, such as through EOS or this year's EOH bridge contest, to be rewarding for her and valuable for the kids.

MatSE students Emily Laugheav and Tyler Jensen at the Superconductors exhibit demonstrate how the object immersed in liquid nitrogen has unique properties and can "float" briefly as it is repelled from another object.

Below, an object they have just removed from the liquid nitrogen "floats" above the track.

EOH exhibitors Namita Kulkarni and Julia Schultz demonstrate how memory metal can revert to its previous shape when heated up.

“They go to local elementary schools and introduce them the concepts and show that engineering is fun and that there are cool applications. If you have that early interest, then it creates more curiosity in the subject for them.”

So being in charge of the middle school design competition seemed a perfect fit. She not only organized the competition, but came up with a scavenger hunt for the kids, including exhibits she thought might would interest them, and also set up little engineering challenges. “I kind of have the role of getting children in middle school and elementary schools interested, and getting things for them to do in EOH.”

Running many of the exhibits were engineering students who, passionate about their disciplines, were eager to share with visitors. For instance, Materials Science and Engineering (MatSE) major Emily Laugheav, a freshman hoping to concentrate in biomaterials, says she sees EOH as a great way to get youngsters hooked on STEM, especially engineering.

“I think it’s a cool way to immerse kids in all different types of engineering, not just materials science, because there’s stuff going all around campus. I think it’s important to expose kids to engineering at a very young age, because there’s so many possibilities that you can do with it, and so many ways to change the world that kids should be aware of.”

At the EOH Origami Gone Wild exhibit, MatSE freshman Julia Schultz reports that her life-long love of origami cranes was the inspiration behind the exhibit. So she decided to combine two things she’s crazy about—materials science and origami cranes.  

“Cranes have been a really big part of my life,” she admits.

She goes on to explain that the idea stemmed from a period in her childhood when her dad was really sick.

“He told me that folding a thousand cranes will heal anyone that was sick. And he actually got better. So Origami has always been a good thing for me. So for this project, I wanted to see if I could apply something I love to origami. It’s been really cool because it uses materials science; it uses some basic electrical.”

The material being highlighted at Schultz's Origami Gone Wild exhibit was memory metal, which when heated, reverts back to its previous shape. Since the crane's wings were imbedded with strips of memory metal, the flow of electricity provided by the attached battery makes the memory metal "remember" it's previous shape, and the crane's wings slowly curve (see the image at the top of the article).

Lots of local parents showed up with their kids, too. For example, one parent, Ash Pawate, explains why he and his wife he brought their son and daughter to EOH.

“We come here every year because it’s a lot of fun,” he admits, “and they really enjoy all the exhibits. It’s something that we don’t miss.”

Does Pawate think either of his kids will end up in a STEM field, such as engineering? “He likes science a lot,” reports Dad. So he asked his son right then and there what he wants to be when he grows up. “He wants to be an engineer,” he says, “and a lot of other stuff."  

Palak Patel, a junior in Chemical Engineering, participated in EOH because of its impact on kids, and hopes to be a role model, especially for girls.

“I think it does a really good job of exposing very young kids to STEM, especially girls,” she says. “It’s fun to have them see what cool things that we engineers can do. And especially for girls, they can see that other girls do this too, and that it’s not just for boys, and we also do a variety of things: easy, cool, hard, fun, all sorts of stuff.”

The Pawates enjoy EOH.

Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.

For an aditional I-STEM articles about Engineering Open House, see:


Chemical Engineering student Palak Patel exhibits one of the items from her crystallization exhibit.

MatSE student Anna Jedralski interacts with Ash Pawate's daughter during EOH.

A team of students who attended EOH as part of the EOS-sponsored “Hail to the Orange, Hail to the Roof" contest watch as their house is demonished by "hail."

Two students at the Candy Fiber Pull exhibit demonstrate pulling candy fiber.

Young visitors to EOH enjoy playing in oobleck.