The NSF-sponsored Biomimetic MicroElectronic Systems Engineering Research Center (BMES ERC) at the University of Southern California (USC) has developed an extensive K–12 outreach program. The Center’s various outreach initiatives have brought the excitement of scientific discovery to hundreds of elementary and secondary school students as well as to their teachers and extended family members. Leveraging the substantial resources and human capital of the BMES ERC, educational curricula that are experiential, hands-on, and aligned with California State Science Standards have been developed and implemented directly into K–12 classrooms. Lesson plans are rich in activities that demonstrate the scientific process, thus ensuring that students learn science by doing science. BMES research is used as a focal and reference point so that K–12 science is contextualized, helping to address the perennial question, “Why do I need to know this?"
Mentoring is a key component of the outreach initiative. It is interwoven throughout the program, and it facilitates the establishment of a culture of connectivity in which mentors pass acquired knowledge and skills onto successively younger generations of students and inculcates the idea of lifelong learning.
The BMES ERC Outreach is composed of a number of programs targeted at K–12 students, teachers, and parents.
- The Engineering for Health Academy (EHA) increases awareness of and support for science and engineering among high school students. The EHA is designed as a small learning community with the goal of introducing students to the spectrum of biomedical engineering (BME) career opportunities. EHA students make a three-year commitment to the program beginning in grade 10 and transition through a series of four integrated core courses. Curriculum development is driven by current/ future anticipated needs of the BME field so that graduating EHA students will have advanced preparation for the demands of a rigorous post-secondary college program in biomedical engineering.
- In their senior year, EHA students enroll in the Research Experience Capstone Class and are matched with USC research laboratories. This offers students the rare opportunity to gain firsthand experience conducting research in a university setting. Students are also able to use the factual information and technical skills they acquire in the EHA core courses and put them into practice. In partnership with USC graduate student mentors, EHA students develop and execute an appropriate year-long research project that they present at the annual Science and Engineering Fair.
- As part of the Science and Engineering Day, EHA students guide small groups of middle school students through the Science and Engineering Fair hosted at the high school and explain the various projects on display. The high school students help their younger peers understand the science behind the projects as well as the process of conducting a scientific experiment from conception to presentation. The EHA students speak about their interests in science and engineering, the courses they are taking in high school, their experiences in the EHA program, and their plans for college.
- The Science for Life Program has developed and implemented age-appropriate, relevant, and interest-provoking educational modules for elementary students. Each module is composed of a series of lessons that use the research of the BMES ERC as a focal point to make science relevant to the young children. The lesson plans are taught by USC faculty and students together with EHA high school students. This affords the opportunity for engineering practitioners to go directly into the classroom and serve as mentors and role models to the elementary school children.
- Family Science Discovery Day demonstrates to parents and other extended family members what the children have been learning in the Science for Life modules. Held on the USC campus, Family Science Discovery Day engages the entire family in STEM discovery activities that are informative and fun and reinforce the idea that learning is a family matter.
- The Engineering Medical Therapeutic Technologies Research Experience for Teachers (EMT2-RET) program supports the involvement of high school and community college STEM teachers in engineering research focused on medical therapeutic technologies conducted in laboratories at USC. Through participation in cutting-edge research at USC, teachers gain advanced knowledge of engineering. Additionally, teachers participate in professional development workshops that aid the teachers in the translation of the EMT2-RET experience into relevant classroom curricula and activities.
Most K–12 students have limited opportunities to directly interact with scientists, engineers, or students who are planning to become scientists and engineers. Thus, the typical elementary and high school student frequently entertains misconceptions of what these professionals look like and what they actually do. To address this situation, the BMES ERC outreach program has made mentoring a central tenet and has interwoven mentoring throughout each of its outreach components. The mentoring conduit begins with senior BMES ERC faculty researchers and proceeds through the university, high school, and elementary school levels. Individuals from one educational level serve as mentors and role models to the next level, thus establishing a culture of connectivity that spans the full educational and professional spectrum. It is the goal of the BMES ERC education outreach initiative that dynamic involvement at all levels of the educational pathway will increase both the number and diversity of U.S. citizens becoming scientists and engineers.
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