How many of us have pursued a career because of a passionate mentor or teacher? I personally chose engineering mainly because my father shared his love for it with me.
Children in urban schools rarely come in contact with highly motivated, intense scientists or engineers. So when you go into their classrooms you change the way they think. You prove that they too can aspire to and pursue a career in science or engineering.
This experience was a very powerful for me. I decided to devote all my energies to motivating underserved children to develop important skills, work hard and aim high.
I started Iridescent, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the best and most exciting science experiences to underserved communities. The model is essentially to help engineers use their skills to develop interesting, hands-on science activities for children and to inspire them to pursue a career in science or engineering.
The Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering Department at USC has been a very strong champion of this program. The department offers a course for undergraduate students (AME 490) that enables them to earn 3 credits for developing and teaching hands-on science courses. Over the past year, we have had 13 students who have conducted 9 courses reaching more than 270 children and parents. (Some of the courses we conduct are for entire families!)
Each course is for ten hours and the course topics are all very unique and real-world. So far we have developed and taught courses on: Aeronautics, Biomechanics of Diving, Cardiovascular Mechanics, Heat transfer and Energy Efficient Houses, Physics of Sailing, Renewable Energy, Rockets, Science of Sporting Equipment and Structural Color.
Every instructor goes through a 16-hour, training program in which he/she learns about motivation, interest, educational psychology, inquiry-based science, lesson planning and evaluation. The instructor also learns how to make assessments for each session and ensure that the students are always learning.
This model of Engineers as Teachers is very powerful as it changes not only the school children
that are being taught, but also the instructors.
The biggest challenge is communicating complex and abstract concepts such as Reynolds number, diffraction, dual nature of light, gravity etc without using any mathematical equations or scientific terms. You have to assume zero prior knowledge (regardless of the participant’s age) and then build up block by block.
The other rewarding aspect is learning about the community and witnessing firsthand a parent’s drive to provide the best for his/her child. We have had parents work two night-shifts and come for a session first thing in the morning. Another parent drove all the way from Santa Barbara (to Los Angeles) every Wednesday night to attend the sessions. It is very inspiring and humbling to come in contact with people who may be less educated than you but may have more ambition, more drive and more determination.
The next step for us is to bring more engineers into the program. We have many more schools than we can provide courses for.
We need passionate, dedicated, visionary engineers and scientists to help inspire a new generation to solve the world’s biggest problems.Let’s make it happen!