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Exploring Engineering and Health Science

Posted on July 10th, 2017
Poster presentation 2

Many of the students said they were interested in pursuing STEM careers, such as computer engineering, neuropsychology, and immunology.

A recent program at the University of Iowa encouraged middle-school students to dream big of a life in the sciences, while also providing some real-world guidance on how to achieve those dreams. Students from across Iowa, and a few from out of state, spent a week learning about engineering and health science from University of Iowa faculty, staff, and students.

Engineering and Health Science: Exploring a Real-World Problem is a summer academic program in the Junior Scholars Institute (JSI), offered through the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa. The one-week, residential course focuses on engineering techniques designed to protect human health, clean the environment, and better enable community sustainability. Students who have completed grades six through eight were eligible to enroll in the program.

First-year instructor Ashlee Johannes says she emphasized the importance of teamwork. “It’s important to build quality relationships in your professional and personal life,” she says. “STEM fields often require collaboration, so encouraging team-oriented attitudes is crucial.” Johannes also serves as the outreach and engagement coordinator for the Iowa Watershed Approach and the Iowa Superfund Research Program.

Many of the students said they were interested in pursuing STEM careers, such as computer engineering, neuropsychology, and immunology.

For the first four days of camp, Johannes led the students through a variety of activities, which started with learning about polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on Monday. IIHR Research Engineer Keri Hornbuckle (also a UI professor of civil and environmental engineering) spoke to the class about her career in engineering and PCB research. Later, the students toured the Iowa Superfund Research Program labs, saw a mouse dissection, and looked at cell culture to understand how PCBs affect organisms and our cells. Anurag Anugu, a seventh grader from Cedar Falls, says he wants to be a cardiologist, so studying the health effects of PCBs was especially interesting to him.

Tuesday consisted of team-building activities, including learning about different personality types, using a STEM career finder, and a group project building PCB instrument prototypes. On Wednesday, two IIHR research engineers spoke to the students. The group learned about phytoremediation from undergraduate research assistant Thomas Bradshaw, who is working with Jerry Schnoor, a UI civil and environmental engineering professor. Later, Charles Stanier, a professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, taught them about air sampling and the air-quality index. Thursday afternoon, the students visited the State Hygienic Lab, learned about water quality in streams, and role-played being limnologists. Recent UI graduate Rebekah Domayer and Erica Larson, the lab education manager, led the education session that afternoon. IFC Outreach Coordinator Breanna Shea also used a watershed model to demonstrate different flooding conditions.

Poster presentation

The week of learning culminated with a Friday poster presentation. The students presented to UI faculty, staff, and students they had interacted with during the week and answered their questions.

The week of learning culminated with a poster presentation on Friday in the Pomerantz Center. Throughout the week, students spent their mornings in groups of four or five, working on posters that summarized what they learned. The students then presented these posters to various UI faculty, staff, and students they had interacted with during the week and answered their questions. The team poster was another opportunity for the students to absorb the information and gain experience presenting a poster as they might in a professional setting, Johannes says.

Arya Karmik, an eighth grader from Waukee, Iowa, says his camp experiences strengthened his resolve to pursue a career in engineering.

“I’ve wanted to be an engineer for a few years now,” says Karmik. “Learning from the professors this week confirmed that this is what I want to do.”

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