Engineering for All: Inaugural Dean’s Innovation Fund Grant Brings College Students to W&M for EAGER Camp


by Julie Tucker, W&M School of Education


September 7, 2021

On a hot August day, the education school yard became a busy testing ground, launching dozens of rockets made from plastic soda bottles.

The engineers were a group of college students from Newport News Public Schools (NNPS), attending Camp EAGER as the culmination of their five-week summer session. The kids, identified as in need of remediation after a year of learning disrupted by COVID, were completely engrossed in the task at hand, consulting their college-age mentors on the aerodynamics of their designs and joking with friends about the process. rocket that would fly the highest.

When one of the rockets crashed into the highest roof of the school building, the crowd erupted into loud applause.

Camp EAGER is the result of Center for Innovation in Learning Design (CILD), co-led by Meredith Kier, Associate Professor of Science Education, and Lindy Johnson, Associate Professor of English Language Education. HAVING means Elifting engineering, Aadvance innovation, gLearning guide, Ethe change of effect, and Rremove barriers for all. The camp was designed to explore two thorny and persistent issues in STEM: First, how can we encourage more people from under-represented groups, primarily girls and youth of color, to pursue careers in STEM ? And second, how do you prepare them to work collaboratively and communicate effectively with various stakeholders?

“We are looking for ways not only to inspire an interest in science and math, but also to give them the communication skills they need to share their ideas, present compelling arguments and collaborate with others,” said Kier.

A powerful mentoring model

A unique aspect of the camp is the strategic use of mentoring. Through a partnership with the National Society of Black Engineers, Kier and Johnson recruited undergraduate students in STEM fields from under-represented backgrounds to serve as mentors for college students. Not only are these mentors similar in age and experience to campers, but they also have diverse engineering expertise that sparks new ways of thinking in students and teachers.

Over the past two years, CILD has explored the potential of this approach through a NSF grant. They worked with mentors and undergraduate teachers at Newport News to co-design engineering challenges based on real-world problems. When the centre’s partners in the NNPS expressed a desire to expand their summer study program with hands-on off-site experience, Camp EAGER was born.

“Our partnership with NNPS has been so positive and mutually beneficial through their openness to new ideas and their equity-driven values,” said Kier. “They will always work for yes and they really care about the children.”

The collaboration between the university and the school division made for a truly impactful experience for the children, said Tami Byron, STEM education supervisor at NNPS. “The enthusiasm among the students when engaging in hands-on STEM learning experiences with their peers was especially encouraging after many months of computer learning,” she added.

The weeklong camp took college kids to the W&M campus to explore one of two engineering challenges: designing and launching a bottled rocket, or creating their own line of all-natural cosmetics. Kier and Johnson have developed interactive engineering design notebooks to guide campers and mentors through the challenges. Carefully crafted learning strategies to guide students’ understanding of the design process were incorporated into these activities.

“These strategies are really aimed at helping mentors, who have deep knowledge of content, to model their own thinking and communication skills so that they teach middle school students ways of thinking, speaking and writing like scientists and engineers, ”Johnson said.

Undergraduate mentors were trained not only to lead the camp and support college students in their learning, but also to be researchers in action, taking notes in the field and collecting data as they interacted. with campers.

Serving as a mentor has been a powerful experience for Faith Odom ’22, majoring in psychology at William & Mary. Although she has not yet decided on a career path, her participation in the camp confirmed her interest in working with children. “And the camp has introduced me to many teachers who are open and willing to help me navigate my next steps after graduation,” she added.

An interdisciplinary and global approach to the child

A year and a half after the start of the pandemic, the team knew that the socio-emotional well-being of the campers would be essential to the success of the camp. Janise Parker, Assistant Professor of School Psychology, has developed special activities and supports to promote community building and help mentors build positive relationships with campers.

“We especially wanted to train mentors to identify and recognize student strengths and convey a sense of caring to young people by listening to them, soliciting their advice when relevant and showing both physically and mentally to the children. Parker said.

She added that it was easy to see the benefits of the camp for campers and mentors.

“It is so fascinating to see how historically marginalized children thrive in a practical and culturally appropriate learning environment,” she said.

Mentors not only learned to communicate complex concepts to students from diverse backgrounds, but they also became more aware of the needs and experiences of marginalized students in educational settings.

“This type of service-learning experience inspires individuals to reflect on the structural and systemic conditions that produce inequalities, leading them to continue to strive for social justice in their professional and personal lives,” Parker said.

A collaboration fueled by philanthropic support

For Dean Rob Knoeppel, the camp is an exciting example of his vision for the School of Education. A year into his tenure as Dean, Knoeppel has set an ambitious course to expand the school’s impact through community collaboration and transformative research.

“This project really embodies what we mean by community-based teaching and research,” Knoeppel said. “It brings teachers, researchers, students and the community together to learn from each other. It unites college and Kindergarten to Grade 12 in the pursuit of new and better ways to educate. And it advances our understanding of equitable teaching practices. This is exactly what we are called to do.

Last year, Dean’s Innovation Fund was established with a generous donation from Shelley and Thomas Jennings, as well as their daughter Kathleen Jennings ’08. The Jennings family have been strong supporters of the School of Education; they created the Jennings Family Scholarship Endowment in 2011 to help W&M students become teachers. Shelley is a former director of the William & Mary Foundation and Kathleen served on the School of Education Development Board from 2014 to 2020.

With a new donation of $ 500,000 in 2020, the Jennings have provided both immediate funds to launch the school’s strategic priorities and an endowment that will ensure long-term funding for future initiatives. The Dean’s Innovation Fund will support each year projects designed by professors to expand the school’s impact and innovative partnerships.

“We were delighted to hear that Camp EAGER has been selected as the first recipient of a Dean’s Innovation Fund grant,” said Kathleen Jennings. “We hoped to facilitate partnerships that leverage the school’s expertise to make a real impact on the lives of children and families. This project certainly fits the bill – and more. “

Looking forward

The innovation grant provided funding for two years. While the team is busy analyzing the data and reviewing their findings, they are already making plans for next year’s camp. They hope to double the number of participants, add new technical design challenges, refine literacy strategies and provide more training for mentors to make the camp experience easier.

“We also want to give students more opportunities to experience the college campus setting, especially the many places and ways in which STEM learning takes place,” said Kier. “We really want to help them see each other on a college campus.”

As the last of the rockets were launched and the campers prepared to return home on the last day of camp, Kier, Johnson and Parker reflected on the experiences of the week.

“This is exactly what summer school should look like,” Johnson said.

“It reminds me of why I do what I do! Parker added.

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