Inspiring young minds through relatable, exciting, hands-on activities is an important component for building a STEM pipeline. We developed a new approach to active learning for STEM education as part of our “SuSTEMability” project where we embedded STEM learning within sustainability focused activities. This work was made possible by E2 Energy to Educate Grant offered by Constellation Energy during spring of 2022. The project engaged Fairfield’s School of Engineering students and faculty with students and educators from Bridgeport’s Cesar Batalla School and Wakeman Boys and Girls Club. SuSTEMability addressed two fundamental challenges to a sustainable energy future. First, ongoing research highlighted the importance of creating sustainable systems to reduce energy usage and environmental deterioration. However, promising technologies and methods that aim at creating such systems, including alternative energy technologies, carbon footprint reduction, and life cycle analysis, are rarely visible to younger generations due to their complexity. Second, the population most at risk to the dangers of climate change are those who are already under-represented in STEM careers. Engagement in high-quality science education is critical to attract students to the sciences, yet these enrichment opportunities are rarely accessible to populations presently underrepresented in STEM. SuSTEMability addressed these issues by providing over two hundred students from diverse backgrounds an understanding of sustainable engineering through age-appropriate activities that illustrate our role as individuals and as a community in building a climate-safe renewable future. Engineering students from the university helped build an identity by offering to serve as SuSTEMability Fellows. They provided instruction and guidance to students through lessons and activities on building circuits, energy conversion, alternative energy sources, gear rotation, force and torque. The outcome of this outreach was studied through oral survey of middle school students, science teachers, and its Fellows. We found that the project enabled Fellows to learn the art and science of teaching by communicating with these youth. Furthermore, we created a replicable model that uses renewable energy and sustainability to engage secondary school students in scientific investigations. This approach prepared underserved student populations to further pursue the scientific and technological issues surrounding sustainable energy sources and apply what they learned to real-life issues that are relevant to themselves and their communities. We also found that local teachers were excited to develop new instructional approaches around sustainability which allowed them to explore the potential of the next generation of engineers for shaping the energy transition. This approach also fits well with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals “to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. An eighth grader when asked said, “Creating the circuit and building the (solar) car was very fun to do. Even though it was sometimes difficult, it taught me that if I kept trying I could do it”. Their teacher stated, “It was so rewarding to see the students’ discoveries and their reactions to changing colors of light”. Educational projects best succeed when the participants have an on-going commitment from the community and its educational leaders and it is currently being pursued.
2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition
Balaji, Uma and Kongar, Elif, "Sustainability Focused Pre-college Engineering Education for Building a STEM Pipeline" (2023). Engineering Faculty Publications. 321.
Balaji, U., & Kongar, E. (2023, June), Board 177: Sustainability Focused Pre-college Engineering Education for Building a STEM Pipeline – Work in Progress Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore, Maryland. https://peer.asee.org/42545