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COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON

A special edition of PERSPECTIVE
ANNUAL REPORT for alumni and friends of the
UW-Madison College of Engineering
2011
SPRING 2011

Opportunities
in engineering
Advancing our workforce
and our economy

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David Nevala
Showing
middle school
students the
societal side
of engineering
By
Sandra Knisely

W
hen Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Amy “This project exemplifies the Wisconsin Idea,” Cramer says. “It is our
Wendt (right) was in ninth grade, her teacher asked hope these students will see engineering in a whole new light.”
the class if anyone liked math. Sitting in the front row,
Wendt eagerly put up her hand. Then she realized she was the only one.
Now, Wendt is helping math and science teachers ask their students
Engineering grand challenges
a different question to get them thinking about careers in engineering: The National Academy of Engineering has laid out a set of major
Would you like to help society? societal issues that will require innovative engineering solutions in the
Led by Wendt, a UW-Madison team is working closely with teachers, 21st century. The challenges are broad-sweeping and include energy,
counselors and administrators at six Wisconsin middle schools to healthcare and urban infrastructure, among several others.
develop a new kind of engineering outreach program. The Grand Challenges for Engineering initiative first came to
Along with Wendt, the UW-Madison team consists of Philip Dunham UW-Madison in the form of an introductory engineering course
Reed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Susan spearheaded by Hagness and introduced in 2008. The course, which is
Hagness (left) and College of Engineering Associate Dean of Academic now open to students across the UW-Madison campus, is based on a
Affairs Steven Cramer, along with School of Education Professor L. Allen set of modules that asks students to investigate the various political,
Phelps and Assistant Professor Kimberly Howard. Several graduate environmental, ethical and legal constraints behind technical solutions.
students are involved, including Lauren Aneskavich, Kevin Cheng and The middle school program is an extension of the philosophy behind
Tam Mayeshiba from the College of Engineering and Jacob Diestelmann, that course, which targets first-year college students because studies
Stephen Gresham and Tsu-Lun Huang from the School of Education. indicate early exposure to the societal impact of engineering helps
Edgewood College Professor Amy Schiebel also contributes. retain students in the field.
The current list of schools the team will work with includes Lodi Area With the new program, UW-Madison engineers are reaching out
Middle School, Madison Middle School and Kaleidoscope Academy/ even earlier in the education pipeline. “Middle school is the time when
Roosevelt Middle School in Appleton, Mitchell Middle School and students start having to make choices about what courses they’ll take
Starbuck Middle School in Racine, and Westfield Area Middle School. The in high school,” Wendt says. “This gives us the opportunity to expose
schools represent a mix of urban and rural schools from different areas of them to the humanitarian applications of engineering before they’ve
the state close enough for the UW-Madison researchers to visit regularly. ruled out engineering without really knowing what it is.”

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There are additional social issues in middle school that make it an During the 2012-2013 school year, the team will introduce two more
ideal time for outreach. “Middle school is a very impressionable time modules that will address clean water and biomedical challenges.
for students,” Hagness says. “It’s the first time in a student’s academic Each module will include classroom activities ranging from pencil
career when peer influences really start to affect choices.” and paper assignments to design and testing projects to watching
Those influences can spread misconceptions about engineers, such videos about UW-Madison alumni working in the field.
as the stereotype that a student has to be a math whiz or will spend “One of our goals is to have a curriculum that goes beyond the
their career in a cubicle building gadgets. scientific method, where you form a hypothesis and test it,” Wendt
The UW-Madison researchers will emphasize instead that engineering says. “We’ll look more at how to achieve an engineering goal when
can be a powerful gateway to helping society. “At a basic level, I hope to you have constraints, so students can get a flavor of the engineering
just influence the awareness and attitude of students that some things design process.”
aren’t just a social issue or technical issue but are a mix of factors,”
Wendt says.
Eager for some company
While the program aims to reach out to a broad range of students,
Everybody’s doing it inspiring female and underrepresented minority students is a particular
The program will include four classroom modules, each of which will goal for Wendt and Hagness.
provide up to three weeks of flexible instructional content that science Wendt says there were few women in many science-related careers
and math teachers can draw from and fit into their lesson plans. when she became an engineer. Yet as the decades went by and other
The UW-Madison program is different from other outreach programs fields, such as medicine and the life sciences, saw substantial growth
because it incorporates the modules directly into regular math and in terms of female practitioners, the number of women in engineering
science courses instead of establishing elective courses or extracurricular remained stalled. Women on average make up 18 to 20 percent of the
activities. Every student at the participating schools will be exposed to engineering undergraduate student population at UW-Madison.
engineering, rather than only those who self-select to join voluntary “I’m eager to have more company,” Wendt says. “It seems like a
outreach programs. shame to me that girls are missing out on some really exciting
“Doing this in core classes means everybody’s doing it, and if it’s a opportunities just because they aren’t aware those opportunities
positive experience for everybody, then a student who’s kind of excited exist at the time they start to think about careers.”
about it won’t feel as much of an oddball,” Wendt says. Though they know not every student, female or male, will go into
The program has received a three-year grant of nearly $1 million engineering after participating in the UW-Madison program, Wendt
from the National Science Foundation, as well as additional support and Hagness say overall it’s a great opportunity to raise the profile of
from the Plexus Foundation, Young Scientists of America and the Carl the profession.
Marschke family. The funds cover module materials, questionnaires “We can inform the students, who will become the general public,
to examine students’ impressions before and after each module, a and give them a better appreciation for engineering,” Hagness says.
summer workshop for teachers at UW-Madison and travel costs to allow
teachers and researchers to frequently meet
over the next two years.

Renee Meiller
Two of the modules will be introduced in The UW-Madison researchers hosted a weeklong workshop
the partner schools during the 2011-2012 in summer 2011 for middle school teachers in the program.
school year and will present particular
themes as multidisciplinary problems. In
the solar energy module, for example,
students will look at solar cookers, solar
water heaters and photovoltaic lights.
The restoring infrastructure module will
go well beyond building toothpick bridges.
Students will learn about the broad
challenges involved in restoring bridges
across the country, including materials
science questions and how electrical
sensors can monitor bridges. Students also
will learn how engineers retrofit buildings
and structures to mitigate damage from
earthquakes and hurricanes.

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