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UW Engineering Outreach Event Going Strong After Eighth Year

May 3, 2017
Pat Neu, second from left, discusses displacement concepts with junior-high students for a workshop.
Pat Neu, second from left, discusses displacement concepts with junior-high students for a workshop.

Reaching out to young minds requires creative techniques, so Ryan Kobbe looked for inspiration from the days of ancient Greece.

Kobbe, an associate professional lecturer in civil and architectural engineering, and 27 individuals from the University of Wyoming’s College of Engineering and Applied Science presented “Archimedes’ Principle” outreach activities in April. The workshop was named for the concepts of Archimedes, a famous Greek mathematician, physicist and engineer, who developed a model for fluid displacement that is still used today.

Kobbe’s team included students (23) and faculty (four), and all except one of the 27 individuals were from the UW Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering. Thirteen of the 23 students were members of the UW chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The volunteers organized demonstrations to six sections of Ron Whitman’s eighth-grade class at Laramie Junior High School (LJHS) over a two-day period, reaching about 150 students total.

Pat Neu, a civil engineering major who serves as the ASCE president, opens the presentation with a history of Archimedes. He attempts a few jokes to get more engagement out of the students, discussing density and unit weight and volume. Examples like cruise ships and submarines are brought to light to illustrate the points.

“These are the things you should be thinking of today,” he says.

Following the presentation, the groups conduct six demonstrations, with each lasting about 10 minutes. The demonstrations include “Density and Specific Gravity of Wood;” “Determining the Volume of Irregular Objects: Normal Golf Balls, Floating Golf Balls;” “Dog Bone Tensile Test Specimens;” “Concrete Cubes;” and “Rebar.”

The “Archimedes’ Principle” is part of a larger outreach program, Explore Engineering, developed by Kobbe in 2010.

“I created the Explore Engineering program in 2010 with the expectation of developing a hands-on, modular outreach tool that could be used to introduce basic STEM concepts to regional K-12 students,” he says. “My intent originally was to work with researchers in the College of Engineering and Applied Science to develop intriguing lectures and demonstrations that would serve two purposes: 1) Allow researchers to disseminate their findings through a well-developed and managed program and 2) Provide a tool that consists of a series of age-appropriate lectures and demonstrations that can be easily delivered to regional K-12 classes.”

Whitman, the LJHS eighth-grade teacher, has featured this outreach program in his classroom for the last four years.

“For kids interested in these fields, this is a great opportunity,” he says. “They can connect with college students and hear a different voice than mine. This is huge for practical application of the science for them to experience.”

Recently, Explore Engineering has been revamped to be a service project, and in 2012, the UW ASCE chapter in which Kobbe serves as adviser, adopted the platform as its primary service initiative. Service is a key component to yearly chapter activities and the UW ASCE has a laundry list of achievements: the Certificate of Commendation (awarded to the top 5 percent of chapters nationally) in 2012, 2014 and 2015; a Letter of Recognition for Community Service (2015); the Richard J. Scranton Outstanding Community Service Award (2016); and was the Region 7 Distinguished Chapter in 2016 and 2017.

The curriculum for the program was created by Kobbe and members of the ASCE student chapter. They select topics of interest to develop demonstrations and presentations as a small group of interested volunteers.

“We have an obligation to share our profession with budding young minds,” Kobbe says. “Bringing STEM concepts to K-12 classrooms is an important aspect of our recruiting and retention efforts across campus. By maintaining an active role in our community, we allow younger students to appreciate what an engineer is and give them a glimpse of our profession in a fun and low-pressure setting.”

In addition to the K-12 outreach, Kobbe points to the advantages of having ASCE members in classrooms.

“ASCE students benefit by having to articulate their future career and the concepts that drive our profession in an age-appropriate context,” he says. “Having the opportunity to package and deliver these activities teaches my students to view the subject matter from a different context, and encourages them to make connections to everyday aspects of their lives. The time we share with these students allows us all to appreciate how much we’ve learned, understand the significance of early exposure to STEM concepts, and share what we love with the next generation.”

The plan is to continue outreach in the future as the connections have grown.

“The key to our recent success has been organization and relationships,” Kobbe says. “By now, we are well connected in classrooms throughout Laramie, and host ongoing activities on an annual basis. This familiarity allows us to explore new ideas and refine the demonstrations we are working on.”

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