Campus & Community

Tau Beta Pi: Inspiring Young Engineers

This past fall, the engineering honor society at Stevens, Tau Beta Pi (TBP) conducted its most extensive K-12 outreach project yet, culminating in the first annual Engineering Trivia Competition, held at Stevens.

“The excitement, enthusiasm and pride of all competing students was the most telltale sign of the success of the program,” said Mary Michelle Easter, a senior in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and TBP committee chair of K-12 outreach. “This experience has shown that with strong, consistent mentorship and rigorous training, young students can learn to perform at advanced levels with amazing energy.”

Over the course of two months, seniors from the TBP New Jersey (NJ) Alpha chapter at Stevens participated in mentorship programs for eighth grade students from three local middle schools: The Academy I Middle School, Franklin M. Williams Middle School and Stevens Cooperative Middle School.

“One of the goals of this program is to expose young students to engineering, so they are better prepared to take advantage of specialized technical high schools and colleges,” said Easter. “The program provides mentors that break stereotypes thus encouraging more students, especially girls and underrepresented minorities, to pursue studies in engineering.”

The participating schools selected students who showed promise and interest in STEM to partake in the program. The students gathered weekly for one-hour lectures that were developed and presented by the TBP mentors. Five topics were chosen: software engineering, robotics and automation, math for engineering, biomedical engineering and structural engineering.

The Engineering Trivia Competition was held on November 21. Stevens’ Distinguished Service Professor Kevin Ryan of the Wesley J. Howe School of Technology Management hosted the event.  As a special treat, TBP Director and NASA aerospace engineer Russell L. Werneth delivered a talk about his experience leading projects for the Hubble telescope.

Each school selected a team of 11 students to compete on five separate rounds-- one for each subject covered in the lectures. Then, for the final round, the teams competed in a fast-paced live robot programming challenge.

The winning team was Academy I, taking the grand prize--a trip to Six Flags Great Adventure. The NJ Alpha chapter is now planning this trip to Six Flags, which will take place in the spring on one of the parks’ Physics, Math & Science Days.

“When asked about their decision to pursue a degree in engineering, most students at Stevens will recount in great detail the personal experience that inspired them to be an engineer,” said Garrett Joyal, TBP president. “A goal of this program was to provide that exact experience and inspiration for all of the students involved. After speaking with participants at the conclusion of the program, I believe we were wildly successful at achieving this goal.”

In a postscript, the February 2015 issue of the Bulletin of Tau Beta Pi (quarterly online publication of the honor society), featured the event as its cover story.