Washoe County School District students have known about the College of Engineering’s Mobile Engineering Education Lab for several years. But at no time has this unique outreach arm of the college been more successful, or as far-reaching.
During the recently concluded school year in Washoe County, it is estimated that the Mobile Engineering Education Lab brought a host of fun, interesting and educational engineering activities to as many as 250 kindergarten through eighth grade students each week.
And since its inception in 1997, the Mobile Engineering Lab has presented lessons and information to more than 100 schools in northern Nevada, serving more than 5,000 students in the community.
Thanks to private funding from the Mallory Foundation, the Mobile Engineering Lab has generated untold excitement in the areas of mathematics, technology, science and engineering.
“It really has been a success story,” said Debbie DeLauer, the College of Engineering’s K-12 outreach coordinator. “We’ve been lucky to have such fantastic (College of Engineering) students who get in front of the school kids and are so enthusiastic about engineering.”
The Mobile Engineering Lab program, which as DeLauer said is presented by current College of Engineering students, brings hands-on lessons to K-8 classrooms. Lessons run about an hour for a class of 30 students. The first 30 minutes of the presentation introduces the University of Nevada, Reno and general engineering information, followed by another 30 minutes of specific lessons and hands-on activity.
This is where the fun starts, DeLauer said.
“We’re hopeful when we begin the presentation that the students know that an engineer isn’t someone who just drives a train,” she said. “We hope that they learn that engineer is about problem-solving, and that mathematics and science can be a fun when it is used to design projects.”
“Our Engineering students who go to the schools really help bring these aspects of the profession to life. They reinforce the message that engineering is a way to do design structures, and to create some really cool, inventive products.”
Lessons include introduction to bridge terminology and different types of bridges (where students actually build a miniature bridge); introduction to electrical terminology and the concept of converting electrical energy into mechanical energy (where students build a simple electric motor); introduction of the terminology of simple machines and forces and motion (where students test various simple machines); gears (where students build a gear system and experiment with different gear sizes and how it affects speed); pulleys (where students build a pulley system and experiment with a different number of pulleys and how it affects the system).
These general lessons, which comply with Nevada’s science standards, have an informal, surprisingly fun component that help all students better relate to the concepts being taught. The bridge design lesson, for example, uses K’nex (a learning tool similar to Legos). Students learn how to make a battery from a lemon in another.
In addition, the program also encourages students from low-income families who are attending at-risk schools that college is indeed an option.
“When we first visit, many of these students aren’t even thinking about college, or about engineering as a career,” DeLauer said. “That’s where our Engineering students can make such a difference. They’re so great with the kids, and encouragement is a big part of what they try to do when they visit the schools.”