Engineering hands-on fun

July 10, 2014

Amiyah Brandon was among the hundreds of youth who got their hands dirty, courtesy of the Michigan State University College of Engineering, during the 32nd annual Metro Detroit Youth Day on Belle Isle on Wednesday, July 9.

Brandon, 9, thought that MSU Engineering’s two tents and five outdoor hands-on activity areas were “very fun.” The fifth grader at Laurus Academy, a public charter school in Southfield, Mich., was among the many youth who stood in line to build their own “pavement in a box” at MSU’s University Transportation Center for Highway Pavement Preservation demonstration area.

Brandon and the other children weighed their options carefully as they layered fine sand, smooth pea gravel, rough stones, sticky clay, and a simulated asphalt surface into round plastic containers -- then squished it all together to make their own roads.  All the while, the children were asked environmental questions about their road design by Spartan engineers Michael Prohaska and Ronell Eisma, both graduate students in civil engineering.

“They made it easy and fun,” said Brandon, “and helped us better understand what college is like. I learned about the surface of roads. Now I have a better understanding of what engineering is,” she added.Amiyah Brandon created her own pavement with the help of MSU's Michael Prohaska and Ronell Eisma.

Brandon was among the estimated 34,000 children aged 8 to 15 years old who spent the day on Belle Isle for sports, food, fun, and activities as a means of showing youngsters that business people and the community care about them.

The hands-on play stations from MSU were popular with the large groups of students who toured Belle Isle. MSU offered solar car races, swimming robotic fish, renewable energy lessons with LEGO eco-lab kits, a build-your-own mini aluminum-foil boat, a bottle rocket launch site, a coloring contest to learn about the anatomy of a heart, and a chance to move robots through VEX and VEX IQ courses.

Drew Kim, assistant to the dean for recruitment, scholarship, and K-12 outreach in the MSU College of Engineering, said events like Metro Detroit Youth Day are vital to finding tomorrow’s scientists and engineers.

“All the research indicates that students are intrigued and interested in the STEM fields until they reach high school,” Kim said.  “It is critical to connect our elementary and middle school students with innovative and creativity focused hands-on activities to pique their love for STEM, and in particular engineering, at this age,” he continued.

Helping Kim on Belle Isle were 12 teachers participating in the NSF-funded Research Experiences for Teachers (RET). “These wonderful teachers are working on research on robotics engineering, so it is a natural fit for them to be at the Metro Detroit event interacting with the students. The teachers reported that they also learned a great deal by working with the kids.”

Michigan State had a total of four tents along College Row, offering green and white giveaway items, hands-on activities and lots of Spartan volunteers to answer questions about college life and career opportunities.

Special visitors on Belle Isle during the day included former Detroit Pistons James "Buddah" Edwards and Earl Cureton, who mingled with kids and helped host the Sprite Ultimate Challenge basketball competition in which 500 youth participated. Former mayor Dave Bing and other Detroit area celebrities also attended. There also was a petting zoo with small farm animals and a young camel; cart rides pulled by a live horse; a chance to sit in a helicopter, and sports clinics for football, soccer, handball, racquetball, karate, and boxing. Other institutions on College Row included the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, Oakland University, and Saginaw Valley.

MSU Engineering’s visit to Metro Detroit Youth Day was funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Center on Highway Pavement Preservation (CHPP) at MSU. Kim serves as outreach director and works with his team of TeachEngineering.org editors and consultants to further STEM interests. “We continually work to improve lesson plans and hands-on activities that are fun and innovating,” he added.

MSU Engineering had two tents and five outdoor play stations on College Row.