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State Teachers Receive Engineering Education at Unique UW Program

July 26, 2016
man pointing at something on a table as other people look on
Gov. Matt Mead, right, recently visited with students and faculty on a tour of the UW Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. (UW Photo)

Craig Heald remembers days as a youngster when he could disassemble a television and know exactly which parts made the thing work. But, as technology advances nearly every day, the Cheyenne teacher realizes that same task wouldn’t be as easy in 2016.

Heald was among a group of 48 teachers from across Wyoming who descended upon the University of Wyoming campus in mid-July for the Engineering Summer Program for Teachers (ESP4T). The aim of the intensive three-day program is to build partnerships between the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) and K-12 teachers to introduce engineering and technology into classrooms. It featured hands-on learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts.

Heald, a teacher at Afflerbach Elementary School in Cheyenne, already has introduced STEM education to his students. In recent years, he was involved with the UW Science Posse, worked with UW NASA Space Consortium and recalls when a UW group helped with a STEM project at his school in 2015.

“I’m a self-made convert to STEM education thanks to my work with UW,” Heald says. “I’m looking for the next level of instruction. My kids don’t have a ton of opportunities to learn about it, so I rely on UW for a lot of that.”

ESP4T is a pilot program, established to encourage teachers to include engineering concepts as part of their curriculum and classroom teaching. Ensuring the next generation of qualified workers in the STEM fields is important, and filling that pipeline begins with teachers. They learned the basics of microcomputer technology and developing skill sets to implement electronic projects as part of classroom packs. The college will provide year-round technical support for the teachers.

Jeanette Wallace teaches chemistry and physics at Wheatland High School. She came to the program with an understanding of mechanical engineering, but gained knowledge of things such as computer programming and coding.

“I’ve gained a completely different perspective,” she says. “STEM education is in almost every career field. We need to change the way we educate. How do we teach each of these concepts together instead of as separate subjects? How do all these pieces fit?

“It was a revelation to really find out my students need to know this,” she continues. “There is STEM everywhere, and we can use it to understand how to make things work to make our society better.”

There is plenty of support for programs like this. It was made possible with financial contributions from the Tier-1 Engineering Initiative, the Wyoming Department of Education, the UW Office of Research and Economic Development, and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UW.

Heald hopes to implement an after-school program soon. He believes even if his students are not interested in STEM careers, they will need to understand how the technology of today’s world affects them and how to use it.

As part of the program, he and the other teachers worked on developing new curriculum to introduce, which can be somewhat daunting. But, he leans on his days of disassembling televisions and encouraging his students to be lifelong learners.

“If you don’t aim high, you’ll never get anywhere,” he says. “I think we have some great opportunities here.”

Counselors Visit UW

In a related program, UW hosted guidance counselors from Wyoming schools July 14 for a daylong event. The program was spearheaded by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the CEAS. It featured demonstrations of the capabilities of the department, including robotics, imaging, brainwave visualizations, evolving artificial intelligence and deep learning.

Jason Uitterdyk, a Laramie High School counselor, was one of the attendees at the demonstrations. Uitterdyk says Laramie High has classes that feature STEM concepts prominently in the curriculum.

“I think the program is awesome,” he says. “I’m learning a lot of things to help me push students to UW and into technical career fields. Demonstrations of robots will speak to about any kid, and to be able to take that experience back to students is great.”

A highlight of the day was a visit from Gov. Matt Mead, who stopped by the CEAS. Mead, Sen. Phil Nicholas and Rep. Kermit Brown, both from Laramie, spent a morning at UW with faculty members and students in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the Department of Computer Science.

Mead even took part in one demonstration, controlling a “Jaguar” robotic component on four wheels that featured a telescoping arm. It was controlled by the user’s body and hand movements.

“To me, this is such an exciting thing, because one of my pushes in Wyoming has been, ‘How do we expand technology and become a bigger player in terms of our economy and industry?’” Mead says. “Whether it’s computer technology or robotics, this all fits in.”

He says not everyone will go into STEM fields, but about 70 percent of the fields in the future will require some sort of STEM knowledge.

“If you can excite the seventh-grader or eighth-grader by being in a robotics program, they may not be in STEM, but just that process of learning and getting excited about learning -- whether they’re an English teacher or a musician or anything else that might be -- that process of getting excited about something and getting a passion and working to learn math and the science behind it, helps in whatever field you’re in,” Mead adds.


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Chad Baldwin

Institutional Communications

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Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-2929

Email: cbaldwin@uwyo.edu

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