A dedicated group of Michigan Tech students is spending the University's Spring Break virtually showing students the benefits of science and technology education.
For the 10th straight year, members of Michigan Technological University’s National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), student chapter, will spend spring break spreading the message of STEM education to underrepresented middle and high school students in Detroit. While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamics of this year’s activities, it has brought about a creative way of reaching students.
They call it the Alternative Spring Break, and over the past decade, dozens of Michigan Tech’s NSBE students have personally visited with hundreds of Detroit-area students. The mission — to encourage students to consider going to college and increase the diversity of those entering the science, technology, engineering and math pipeline.
Doing it differently
Like many activities and events, this year’s Alternative Spring Break will be conducted virtually. During the week, the 11 MTU students who comprise this year’s NSBE Pre-College Initiative (PCI), will give presentations to every middle and high school science class at Chandler Park Academy in Detroit, a total of 74 classes and 1,850 students.
Andi Smith is vice president of NSBE and chair of this year’s PCI. The senior chemical engineering major is participating in PCI for the fourth year. Smith said despite the change in format, the message remains the same. “The best thing for me is being able to educate the students on things I wish I would’ve known when I was their age,” Smith said, adding that some of the schools they visit may not have all of the resources that schools in higher income areas have. “I also think it’s extremely valuable that they hear this information from someone who looks like them and is close in age. I understand what it was like to be in their position and having some random person come in and school them on different subjects and how that can be extremely boring, so I try to make sure I combat the things I disliked about guest presenters and make it more engaging.”
This year I came up with the idea to create a scholarship for one of the students we speak to who decided to come to Michigan Tech. The scholarship will be used for travel, tuition, books or anything else they need in order to come to MTU,” explained Smith. She said the efforts of Michigan Tech alumna Erin Richie and other alumni made the scholarship a reality.
A need for innovators
While popular in-person activities, such as family engineering events for K-8 students and their families, will not happen this year, the virtual sessions will reach more students with the important message of STEM. “It is extremely important to encourage young people to enter into STEM fields because we need more and diverse innovators to create solutions to everyday problems and global challenges that we face,” said Smith.
Joan Chadde, director of Michigan Tech’s Center for Science and Environmental Outreach, has mentored the group for its alternative Spring Break trip for the past 10 years. Chadde is excited the PCI outreach in Detroit schools will continue despite the pandemic. “These presentations are designed to engage and inspire diverse students to learn about and consider careers in engineering and science by interacting with ‘hometown’ role models,” said Chadde, who noted that most of the participating NSBE students are from the Detroit area.
The NSBE student chapter’s outreach effort is funded by General Motors and Tech’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Smith said COVID-19 did make continuing the Alternative Spring Break program more difficult —but solving problems is what being an engineer is all about. “Engineering is such a diverse field that it can be intimidating to get started, but anyone can do it and be a part of it. Sometimes students just need to be made aware of the opportunity.”
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.