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Speed School partners in program to introduce engineering to young children

February 18th, 2009


Mickey Wilhelm, dean of UofL’s Speed School of Engineering.

You’ve got to start early.

The sooner that children learn what the engineering field offers them — and the rest of the world — the more likely they are to opt for it as a career choice and to prepare for it in their studies, according to engineering educators such as Speed School of Engineering Dean Mickey Wilhelm.

And elementary school isn’t too soon.

Wilhelm and Jefferson County Public School officials joined QK4 Engineering President David Smith Feb. 17 to announce that Smith’s Louisville-based company was added as a business partner in expanding the Engineering is Elementary program at Wheeler Elementary School. Speed faculty members have been helping Wheeler students since 2006, first in an after-school program to introduce engineering fundamentals.

Now Wheeler is one of 10 JCPS elementary and middle schools that Speed’s outreach programs director, Gary Rivoli, visits weekly to work with teachers and help students understand the relevance of engineering concepts to their everyday lives. Hands-on exercises at Wheeler have included designing and testing model bridges, building walls and constructing filters for pond water.

The Boston Museum of Science developed the Engineering is Elementary model used nationally.

Many Wheeler students will be able to build on those lessons and concepts when they progress to Carrithers Middle School, which offers an engineering club. From Carrithers, like QK4 engineer Rob Campbell’s eighth-grade son Shelby, the students can get set for Jeffersontown High, which is a pre-engineering technology magnet school.

Campbell, a 1993 and 2005 Speed civil engineering graduate, is impressed that the program introduces young students to what engineers do and helps shepherd their abilities to excel in technical areas.

“Even if these children don’t become engineers someday, they may get a technical degree in science or in math,” Campbell said.

“The fact that my son is excited about it tells me they are doing something right,” he said. “They need to be captivated. When you gain knowledge, that’s fun.”

The idea is to build a science, mathematics, engineering and technology (STEM) pipeline from school to school and ultimately college so students can be better prepared to succeed and launch their careers. That is among the reasons the Speed School added the outreach office to its engineering fundamentals department, led by Pat Ralston.

“It’s a long-term approach to the issue,” Wilhelm said.

There’s evidence the approach may be working already. After praising Speed’s and QK4’s involvement in her school, Wheeler Principal Julie Barrett introduced two students: three-year participant Josie Hile, who said she planned to build bridges when she grows up, and Dominic Tufaro, who said he intends to “invent something important in the future.”

Related Links
Elementary/Wheeler/index.html Wheeler Elementary
JB Speed School of Engineering
Engineering is Elementary

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