As scientists and engineers, it is vital that we use our expansive knowledge of esoteric material to educate the public and increase scientific literacy within our communities. By being effective communicators of science, we are enabling our citizens to make educated decisions about science based funding and policies- which is essential to the function of our democracy. The Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology is dedicated to the purpose of spreading scientific awareness and contains two members serving as presidents of non-profit organizations on campus. Mackenzie Hagan, the president of the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE), and myself, Bradley Lusk, the president of the elementary education outreach organization Camp Sparky, recently teamed up to have our organizations present three interactive lessons about civil engineering concepts to the fourth and fifth grade class of Phoenix Collegiate Academy. During the visit, the we also presented an informative lesson about education after high school to help prepare the students for careers in science and engineering.
The three civil engineering stations included building bridges with straws and tape, building dams with rocks and sand, and developing water filtration systems using basic household materials. The students were encouraged to engineer solutions to problems rather than merely follow instructions. For example, students building the bridges were informed that the completed bridge needed to be able to sustain the weight of a book while maintaining structural integrity if presented with a strong force like wind shear. If the construction failed when tested, students were asked to discuss why and then develop a new plan to prevent future failure. If students struggled, examples were presented so that students could evaluate pre-existing solutions and develop their own based on previous models. The day closed with a series of songs and dances to get everyone on their feet and excited about education and engineering.
The elementary students and members of the Swette Center, Camp Sparky, and ASCE had a terrific time interacting throughout the day. After attending the event, there was unanimous consensus amongst all attendees that interacting with elementary students to share our passions and ideas for the purpose inspiring aspiring young minds was an immensely satisfying and gratifying experience. On behalf of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, Camp Sparky, and the American Society for Civil Engineers, we highly encourage everyone to take the time to motivate our youth and experience the wonder of changing young lives, one classroom at a time.