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RISE UP GEAR UP Partners with College of Engineering to Host Summer Institute

Early Engineering studentsThe Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity’s RISE UP GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) grant partnered with the College of Engineering to host 27 middle school students on campus for the 2012 Early Engineering Institute, July 31-Aug. 2.

The three-day institute was aimed to introduce students to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and prepare them to perform well in middle and high school math. It also helped increase their understanding of various engineering careers.

“The production of STEM degrees is so important to our state’s economic vitality and this institute will help us expand the number of degrees earned in high-demand fields,” said Sheila Edwards Lange, UW vice president for Minority Affairs and vice provost for Diversity.

Students came to UW from as far as the Yakima Valley and Mount Vernon to live in the dorms, participate in workshops and visit research labs. The institute culminated with an awards banquet that featured remarks from College of Engineering dean Matt O’Donnell and OMA&D associate vice president Enrique Morales. It was a condensed version of the College of Engineering’s Math Academy that hosts high school juniors for four weeks in July.

“The Early Engineering Institute used project-based learning and hands-on activities to excite students about engineering and STEM fields,” said Dawn Wiggin Esselstrom, associate director for Student Academic Services in the College of Engineering. “In conjunction with each engineering project was an algebra lesson using the concepts related to the interactive engineering project.

“Throughout the program students were engaged, asked great questions and were very interested in what they were learning,” Wiggin Esselstrom added. “We hope to continue this mutually beneficial partnership next year, possibly even expanding the program’s length and number of students served.”

OMA&D’s RISE UP (Rural Initiative in STEM Education and Undergraduate Preparation) grant is aimed to increase the percentage of middle and high school students taking rigorous and challenging courses in STEM programs. It is an expansion of OMA&D’s GEAR UP grant that offers college readiness programs for low-income students in 14 school districts in Eastern Washington and the Skagit Valley.

Joe Monzingo, site coordinator for the RISE UP GEAR UP grant in the Toppenish School District, brought four students to participate in the Early Engineering Institute.

“The sessions they had here at the institute opened their eyes to how much fun they can have learning,” Monzingo said. “They’re being able to apply math problems and equations to material things and stuff that you see every day. They’re making that connection. I think that is what’s going to keep them fired up to continue on in the engineering field.”

Students were accepted to the institute based on an essay submission explaining why they wanted to attend. Seventh-grader Cristina Carrasco from Royal City Middle School wanted to learn more about math and algebra, and get a head start on her next math class. Eighth-grader Reid Bardwell from East Valley Middle School in Moxee was already interested in engineering, but came away from the institute even more excited about the field. And eighth-grader Olivia Farrell from LaVenture Middle School in Mount Vernon learned something new.

“When I came here I didn’t really know too much about engineering, but now that I’ve seen all the different fields of engineering, I think it’s a pretty cool field to go into,” she said.

Additional campus partners for the institute included Aeronautics & Astronautics, Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, UW EcoCAR 2, College of Engineering Dean’s Office and Student Academic Services.

The concept for this inaugural institute began when Dr. Eve Riskin, UW associate engineering dean and professor, presented the idea to Morales and UW GEAR UP director Loueta Johnson after OMA&D received the RISE UP GEAR UP grant last fall. According to Morales, there are plans to explore the inclusion of more GEAR UP or OMA&D outreach program participants in future institutes.

Photos by Dawn Wiggin Esselstrom