Graduate students in mechanical engineering are aspiring to get younger generations excited about the field. The Committee for Equity in Mechanical Engineering (CEME) is accomplishing that goal by engaging with high schoolers in a manner that is similar to their own education – with hands-on learning.
On Tuesday, February 15, CEME invited 110 freshmen from Arrupe Jesuit High School to campus, where they built insect-inspired robots and toured the Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory (ITLL). It gave those high schoolers the chance to see what life is like as an engineering student.
"I think the best part is to connect with the students and show them that they too can pursue STEM," CEME member Rosa Morales said. "I love speaking Spanish with them, demonstrating that we are not very different from one another and showing that if I could do it, they could too. I also love to hear them say 'that was so easy' after they've completed the projects we put together! I feel like these projects show them that they really can do STEM."
Arrupe Jesuit serves economically disadvantaged students from Denver's inner-city neighborhoods. The school focuses on community partnerships to better overcome the challenges of servicing urban communities. CEME has stepped up be one of those valuable friendships.
CEME has been working with Arrupe Jesuit High School since summer 2021, when the group visited the school and built mouse trap race cars to demonstrate the fundamentals of engineering. The success of that event is what inspired the graduate students to plan the field trip to campus.
Since CEME knew they wanted ongoing interaction with the high schoolers, the visit was step one in a two-part project. On campus, the high schoolers built 30 insect-inspired robots with a focus on the hardware component of the devices. Step two involves CEME members going back to Arrupe Jesuit High School to teach the students about the software component. The graduate student volunteers will instruct the high schoolers on building basic code for the robots.
"Seeing them get excited about the simple stuff that I still geek out about is so fun," said Brennan Moeller, one of the graduate student volunteers.
CEME members and the graduate student volunteers hope this work impacts how the freshmen high schoolers envision their futures. Volunteer Brittany Nixon added that the best part of these events is "connecting with the kids, seeing them get excited about science and engineering, and encouraging them."