Engineering Program Brings Creativity to K-12 Students

By Francis Pellicciaro
Outreach and Engagement Communications Student Intern

Prof. Betty Lise Anderson works with K-12 students. Reach out to 10,250 students in 79 different schools, and show every one of them that they can be something that they may never have imagined being.

Do this for seven years, holding the attention of students from kindergarten to 12th grade and giving them hands-on projects that open their minds to what they can accomplish in their lives.

Who does this?

Betty Lise Anderson is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. She founded the K-12 Engineering Outreach program in 2008 and recently won the highest university award for community engagement, the University Outreach and Engagement Award.

Anderson takes the basics of engineering – creating things by applying scientific knowledge - and shows students how they can experience this for themselves, giving them an idea of what they can create.

The results are captivating.

Anderson has the children building their own music-playing speakers that are made out of paper and can be connected to digital music players. They have also built simple heart-rate monitors, among other projects.

An Ohio State engineering student works with children in Colombia. "The kids are amazed and thrilled to be able to build these things," Anderson said. "You could build a solar cooker out of a cardboard box and aluminum foil; you don't need any math to do that."

Her program focuses on students in underserved communities. She is passionate about sparking interest in engineering among girls and people of color, and said that having diversity is important to engineering since "you're better able to serve society because you can understand it better."

The engineering projects that Anderson's program brings to schools come with instructions for students, and there are cartoon instructions in development so that students who don't speak English can better understand how to create things, like a working spectrometer. The cartoon instructions came about because, as Anderson said of previous instructions, "nobody looked at the words, they looked at the pictures."

These instructions will come in particularly handy as the program expands internationally. Recently, she took the program overseas to visit a school in Colombia.

"The kids were really excited on having foreign people come with projects like these," said Estefania Fernandez, an electrical and computer engineering major who participated in the study abroad program.

"It's really important for them to see someone that was raised like them succeeding," said Fernandez, who moved to the U.S. from Columbia in 2011. "It was really important for me personally to give back to my home country a little bit of what I have received back in the U.S."

One project Fernandez and her fellow Buckeyes worked on with the Colombian students was showing them how to make an LED flashlight.

"Right now everything we have revolves around technology and circuits, so that's what we wanted to show them," Fernandez said.

A student displays his work. Anderson said that the international aspect of the program is just starting, and she would like the program to travel "wherever we can get funding to do it." The "we" aspect of her program is very important, because she enlists the help of Ohio State students from a list of 150 volunteers, who take on much of the workload.

One of those students is Clayton Greenbaum, an electrical and computer engineering major who has participated in nearly 100 outreach and engagement events at which he has spent nearly 400 hours, in addition to time spent preparing for events and developing new projects. The projects that Greenbaum is currently working on include a simple circuit that can be used to wirelessly transfer energy, and an AM radio that can be built for $1.50. He said that many of these projects are cool, but they are hard to provide to large numbers of students under a budget, so he and the team have to come up with creative solutions.

"How do you wirelessly transfer energy for under $2?" said Greenbaum. "How do you diagnose what is wrong with the radio without the specialized tools, so you can do it in a classroom?"

Additionally, Anderson said that she is supportive of similar outreach and engagement programs in subjects outside of engineering.

"If other people at the university are interested in doing this for their field, I'd be happy to meet with them," she said.


Contact: Betty Lise Anderson, anderson.67@osu.edu

Program website: go.osu.edu/K12engineering