At one table, students from Concordia Lutheran School used their blue-gloved hands to mix bowls of white goop. Next to them, Lusher Charter School students manipulated clay levees and miniature trees around a model landscape in an effort to design a functional storm defense system. Across the room, students from several schools stood in line for a chance to put on a virtual reality headset and dive underwater to see an off-shore oil rig.
The hands-on exhibits were just three of dozens that nearly 1,600 students from 26 New Orleans-area middle and high schools got to experience during the University of New Orleans’ National Engineers Week celebration on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Organized in collaboration with Core Element and the American Society of Civil Engineers, the event also featured four screenings of “Dream Big: Engineering Our World,” a feature-length film produced in partnership with the American Society of Civil Engineers that explores the human ingenuity behind engineering marvels large and small.
Kim Jovanovich, assistant dean in the College of Engineering and the Chevron USA Endowed
Professor in Electrical Engineering, said he could hear a pin drop during each of
the screenings. Students, he said, were thoroughly engaged with the topic and seemed
to leave inspired by the experience.
“It was a great day,” Jovanovich said. “The biggest goal was to give students an awareness of what engineers are and how engineers make a difference in our lives … The reason why life on this planet is better than it was 20 years ago is because of what engineers have done.”
Nearly 30 exhibitors participated, including 19 companies and organizations: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Atmos Energy, Brown Foundation with “From Student to Scientist,” Core Element, Entergy, Girl Scouts Louisiana East, Hewlett Packard, Intralox, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Lab, Microsoft, MISO Energy, MS Benbow and Associates, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Stennis, Port of New Orleans, Shell Oil, Stennis Space Center and The National WWII Museum.
UNO students also came out from the campus chapters of the American Association of Drilling Engineers at UNO, American Society of Civil Engineers, UNO Robotics Club, National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Professional Engineers, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, the Hispanic Society of Professional Engineers, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the College of Engineering.
Jan Brenan is executive director of Core Element, an organization housed on UNO’s
campus that specializes in providing STEM-related professional development to classroom
educators. Brenan said all the exhibitors did a great job of offering engaging activities
that really helped students and teachers understand key engineering concepts and experiences.
“You want to promote awareness and provide experiences that help create aha moments and maybe even change the trajectory of someone’s career,” Brenan said. “I think from that standpoint, it was a phenomenal success, especially for a first-time partner event.”
Mi Wha Fontenot, gifted and talented coordinator at Young Audiences Charter School in Gretna, brought 28 sixth-graders to the event. She said that she’s always on the look-out for such enrichment opportunities for her students. The only challenge this time, she said, was that the high attendance and popularity of various exhibits meant students had to sometimes wait for their turn.
“The kids definitely loved it,” Fontenot said.
Jovanovich said it makes sense for UNO to host such an event. The University has the only civil, electrical and mechanical engineering programs in metro New Orleans and one of the few naval architecture and marine engineering programs in the nation.
UNO President John Nicklow said he was very pleased with the event’s success. “I was thrilled that so many local K-12 students came to campus so that they might get a better idea of what it means to be an engineer,” Nicklow said. “As an engineer myself, I can honestly say that engineers make a difference in people’s lives around the world. It was great to see so much enthusiasm around the engineering exhibits, activities and the film. The University was proud to host the event.”