Role models for future engineers

Beverly J. Martin (BJM) Elementary School is located in downtown Ithaca and is a vibrant, diverse community, with a wide range of learners and a cohort of students struggling to become more proficient in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The school averages 320 children per year, 66% of whom, in 2014, receive free lunch, and 4% more receive reduced lunch. This large percentage of the school population is less likely to have: family backgrounds in the sciences and engineering, general background information to apply to solving problems in society, early school readiness skills for developing an inquiry focus, exposure to role models and innovators, and other privileged access to exploring the world at large.

The Academic Plus After-School Enrichment Program (A+) at BJM provides enrichment to students by providing special experiential learning opportunities to increase academic achievement. By partnering with Xraise at CHESS, A+ provides STEM teaching and learning outside of the school day. Xraise offers opportunities for student-centered engineering design projects, where the students themselves help frame the goals of the activity, tackle their own preconceptions, utilize feedback from testing their own ideas, and acknowledge their own improvements or the failure of their designs. Enhancing engineering education in elementary school is the ideal place to cultivate the problem-solvers and team builders—required of future engineering and science field employees.

CHESS postdoctoral associate and Xraise volunteer Kelly Nygren believes that mentored, hands-on opportunities for elementary aged students such as those offered through the A+ Program are critical to engagement and success in STEM. Nygren has served as an instructor for middle school science camps and a mentor for Engineers Without Borders. Now, with a degree in materials science, her work through the Xraise program is just one of the ways in which she hopes to inspire youth, particularly women and girls. Says Nygren, “When I think about my small universe – my family, friends, and mentors - all who conspired to help me achieve my dreams, I want to help create that universe for other people to experience the same as I have. It is new outreach endeavors that energize me the most.” The Xraise program is delighted to have her mentoring and inspiring the next generation engineering enthusiasts.