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Serving up K-12 STEM with a Side of Renewable Energy in Atlanta

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How do you raise awareness of underrepresented, minority high school populations to the world of science, technology, engineering and math, aka STEM?

If you’re Georgia Tech, you’re leveraging the success from Project ENGAGES, an innovative high school science education program developed at Georgia Tech in partnership with four minority-serving public high schools in Atlanta: Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, B.E.S.T Academy, Benjamin E. Mays HS and KIPP Atlanta Collegiate. Project ENGAGES offers two tracks: biotechnology and engineering. Project ENGAGES (Engaging New Generations at Georgia Tech through Engineering and Science) provides year-long research opportunities for four minority serving high schools in the City of Atlanta.

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Though it’s only been around since 2013, it’s having an impressive impact. Project ENGAGES graduates have been offered full rides to schools like Stanford University, Johns Hopkins, Spellman College and Georgia Tech.

Project ENGAGES engineering track is a joint effort of the Georgia Tech Research Institute, the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, and the NSF-funded Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.

It’s a highly competitive program. Project ENGAGES gets more applications than they have openings. Students who are selected are expected to spend a minimum of 35 hours/week working in their Georgia Tech research laboratory during the summer and 15 hours/week during the school year. And they get paid.

For students in the engineering track, the program is intended for those interested in physics and other areas of engineering, like environmental engineering, materials, and robotics. Thanks to GridED, one of the three DTTCs (Distributed Technology Training Consortia) in the GEARED network, renewable energy will be included in Project ENGAGES engineering track and rolled out at the BEST Academy for Fall 2015.

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“This is critical for us,” said Kevin Caravatti, Georgia Tech Research Institute Energy and Sustainability Branch Chief who manages Project ENGAGES engineering track.  “We see it as entirely consistent with the GEARED’s mission to train the next generation of the power engineering workforce. We’re building the pipeline of the next gen power system engineers.”

Georgia Tech and GridED are strong proponents of K-12 STEM-based education, especially for underrepresented populations. This fall, the GridED K-12 STEM Initiative was rolled out at the BEST Academy H.S., one of Project ENGAGES’s partner schools.

“We know what’s been done already with STEM,” said Caravatti. “We know there’s a strong student interest in learning about renewable energy. We see this as a perfect opportunity to integrate these topics into the engineering curriculum.”

Thanks to a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, GridED hired a high school teacher who converted timely distributed generation issues into lesson plans, and ultimately weekly 45-minute lectures

The seven topic areas:

  • renewables
  • non-renewables
  • energy in the U.S.
  • world energy
  • policies
  • technologies
  • trends

“We saw the gap in what’s currently offered in the STEM engineering curriculum. We also recognize there’s a lack of knowledge about energy as a whole: the market, what powers our homes, cars, businesses, and the power grid. There are other issue areas related to renewable energy like policy and economics. We’ve tended to focus hard on the engineering, but it’s these related areas are part of a more well-rounded understanding of energy issues,” said Caravatti.

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Working with Caravatti is Lori Warneke, GridED’s K-12 outreach coordinator. With a background in higher education, Warneke has a valuable perspective on how to amplify GridED’s K-12 message.

ENGAGES students are immersed in real-world, hands on research led by top notch Georgia Tech scientists and researchers in engineering, science and technology. Besides the intense engineering learning experience, students also learn leadership skills, conflict resolution, time management, presentation skills, all essential for a healthy, holistic approach to success in the workplace.

Earlier this spring, Caravatti was the keynote speaker at a local/regional STEM conference in Atlanta where more than 100 STEM educators spent three days sharing the latest in STEM content, teaching strategies and best practices. Caravatti used this conference to roll out the ENGAGES renewable energy curriculum. “The goal was to inform teachers how they can augment their STEM curriculae in their classrooms. We know it was enthusiastically received.”

Images: Project ENGAGES