Most technically-oriented people enjoy fields like electronics and manufacturing, and many of them are anxious to share their enthusiasm with young people. Getting more youth interested in science and technology is an important goal for companies that need a continuing supply of educated personnel, as well as for nations that want to remain competitive in global markets.
The benefits of this interest go beyond having a knowledgeable workforce. Literacy in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) helps legislators better understand the impact of laws and regulations they’re writing. Consumers can also benefit if they understand technical tradeoffs when they’re buying products with the latest and greatest electronic functions.
A growing number of engineers are participating in well-designed projects that are fun for students as well as engineers who serve as mentors. The Electrathon America Electric Vehicle Race, in which professional mentors partner with high school students to build battery-powered cars, is one example.
A team of 17 students from the Forsyth Central High School STEM Academy teamed up with three Siemens Hybrid Drive Technologies Division engineers — Shawn Pinnock, Brian Munari and P.J. Craig – to build a lightweight, one-person car that hit speeds in excess of 40 mph. The team got third place in the contest, held in June in Alpharetta, Ga.
Students from the high school in Cumming, Ga., spent months developing the car. Their performance during the race highlighted the learning and understanding they gained during the development process. In their first heat, the batteries died before the one-hour race was completed. The racer finished 53 laps before the failure.
The team went to work revising the car’s battery management. Their efforts paid off. In the next hour-long heat, the racer came in second, completing 60 laps. That’s only one less than the winner of that heat.
“It’s rewarding to see how quickly they grasped the concepts,” said Craig, one of the Siemens mentors.
The effort is only one of Siemens Automation’s programs to improve STEM education. Siemens Automation Cooperates with Education (SCE) helps educational and research and development institutions to leverage the company’s knowledge as an innovation driver.
The Forsyth program highlights this effort. Along with the man-hours donated by the three mentors, Siemens Hybrid Drives donated about $7,500 to cover costs of materials and equipment to build the competitive car.
The interactions between the students and Siemens expanded a while after the race, when Siemens hosted team members from Forsyth Central STEM Academy at its manufacturing plant in Alpharetta. That gave other employees a chance to see the car in action and hear from the students while also giving the students a chance to see what their mentors do when they’re working.
This type of mentoring is a big deal to high school students, but it represents only a small part of Siemens Automation interactions with educators and students. SCE also provides educators with trainer packages that can include hardware and software for setting up laboratories and free teaching curriculums. These materials, along with others, help ensure that scholastics lessons and lectures closely follow current job requirements and technology trends.
Programs like these can be a big help to schools. Siemens’ contributions helped Forsyth improve its STEM teaching. That effort is definitely paying off – the school was recently named Georgia’s best high school STEM program.
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