Three University engineering students taught a small room of children and their guardians the principles of implementing design projects during a short presentation at the Northwest Reno Library, May 21.
The Mobile Engineering Education Lab, or ME2L, program provides the opportunity for local elementary and high school teachers to sign up their classes for a no-cost lesson on selected engineering topics presented by the University's engineering students.
"The ME2L program is beneficial to the community because it introduces the field of engineering to those who may not already know about it or be comfortable with it," Elyse Bozsik, K-12 outreach coordinator, said. "By having hands-on, engaging experiments, children can learn about the exciting field of engineering while having a great time."
The program has been operating for 10 years, but this year was the first the program partnered with the Washoe County Library System at the Northwest Reno branch to provide free public lessons. Programming Librarian Leslie Burke learned about the program from a visiting engineering student, and arranged to have ME2L offer lessons at the library on the third Saturday of each month, excluding June.
"I think that bringing programs featuring students or faculty to library patrons young and old can make the community seem tighter and can make college feel more friendly and accessible to some who might shy away from places of higher education," Burke said.
Saturday, May 21, a room in the library was made available to anyone who wanted to attend the ME2L program. A small collection of kids attended, most young enough to be accompanied by an adult, and all seemed attentive and open to learn.
The three University students running the workshop that week taught the five steps to implementing projects: ask, imagine, design, create and improve. They handed out packages of connectable toy pieces and explained that the children would be practicing each of the different steps before passing their product or design to the child to their left. It took a few minutes for the kids to unwind and begin construction. Once they did, they created imaginative and varied models of windmills, human figures, vehicles and more with the pieces of plastic they were given - most included detailed sketches and plans for construction
"It is a great way to introduce the basic principles of engineering to young minds and give them a chance to decide if engineering is an area they want to pursue," one of that day's instructors, computer science and engineering student Sahana Acharya said. "I'd like to think I'm making a change by opening more children up to STEM at an early age, since I didn't have an opportunity like this when I young."
These events are intended to make engineering not only more accessible but more appealing to elementary and high school students by making them aware of the possibilities for creativity found in STEM fields.
Throughout the lessons, the University students talk with the group about college life and prospects, engineering majors and careers, as well as the reasons why subjects such as math and science are vital for society.
"This program helps open kids' minds to the world of engineering and spark their interest in the field at a young age, which is great," instructors and engineering student Jamie Fry said.