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Increasing Engagement in Outreach Programs through Comprehension via Design and the Tetrahedron

Kaitlin Tyler | University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

Increasing Engagement in Outreach Programs through Comprehension via Design and the Tetrahedron

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Outreach summer camps, particularly those focused on increasing the number of women in engineering, are commonplace. They can be either multi-disciplinary or focus on a specific branch of engineering. Material science is popular for single discipline camps due to the widespread applications associated with it. Unfortunately, because of the field's large scope, camps are forced to pick and choose what topics are covered. This can give the impression that the discipline is disjointed. This lack of cohesion within the camp can lead to participant confusion, which could be misinterpreted as a fundamental lack of engineering understanding. These types of feelings may discourage students from entering engineering, thus defeating the purpose of the program. Such confusion may further be exacerbated by the lack of an overarching design project, which is quite common in summer camps for other fields like mechanical engineering or computer science. Design projects increase engagement with students due to the inherent hands on nature and the freedom to interact with the material in a creative way. We propose a novel weeklong materials summer camp structure mixing a design project and 14 materials science topics together using the materials science tetrahedron paradigm as the framework. The purpose of this curriculum is to increase engagement through hands on activities and an increased sense of cohesiveness for materials science as a whole. The tetrahedron provides the structured activities with a uniform format and an overarching framework to connect everything together, easing the transfer of knowledge between subjects and increasing the students' understanding of materials science. The open-ended design project is introduced on the first day of camp and is woven in throughout the week based on the participant's co-current structured activities. Details on the camp's organization will be provided, as well as the results from two years of implementation and restructuring.