Professors at New Jersey Institute of Technology were awarded a $1.1 million, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to change the way inner city students learn about science and technology. The money will allow engineering professors from NJIT’s Newark College of Engineering (NCE) and specialists from NJIT’s Center for Pre-College Programs to help public school teachers in Newark, Orange, Perth Amboy and Union City build an exciting, sophisticated science and technology curriculum.
“We’ll be using an exciting and excellent program from which we’ve already seen great results,” said NJIT Associate Professor Ronald Rockland, PhD, NCE Associate Dean and principal investigator (PI) of the project. “We’ll be offering these kids the chance to use Legos to build robots and solve biomedical engineering problems.” Teacher training will take place through August. The program will be initially implemented into classrooms this coming September.
NJIT Professor Howard Kimmel, PhD, executive director of NJIT’s Center for Pre-college Programs and a co-PI, said he’s already seen terrific results from this program. “We use age appropriate versions with our pre-college students during the summer and they love it,” Kimmel said. “But now with this infusion of money, we plan on building and buying better equipment to help inner city youngsters and their teachers move to a level that they haven’t reached before.”
The researchers have dubbed their program: medibotics. “What this means,” said Kimmel, “is that we are merging the specialties of medicine, robotics and information technology. As the youngsters build with the Lego kits, they will learn in a hands-on way how to solve engineering problems. They will also apply principles in physics, mathematics, information technology and more.”
Currently in NJIT biomedical classes, freshman bioengineering students use the same kits to complete a two-credit course in engineering design. The NJIT professors realize that the middle and high school students may not be able to work on the same level, but note that kits can be adopted for other age groups.
“We hope to make a difference in the lives of youngsters and teachers who, without this opportunity, might have no or minimal interest in science and technology careers and curricula,” said Rockland. “Sadly, many pre-college students even in our suburban communities are not exposed until twelfth grade to topics in these fields. For many inner-city youngsters, the situation is worse. Their only interaction with technology may be using a personal computer for word processing and other non-technical tasks. Without opportunities, too many of our urban students do not develop the interest and skills to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These are emerging careers and require skills in high demand for our knowledge and technology economy. We at NJIT, along with their teachers, want to see urban minority students apply mathematics and science knowledge to real-life problems, engage in the process of technology and communicate ideas.”
For more than 30 years, NJIT’s Pre-College Program has changed the way children, particularly minority students from urban centers, learn. More than 2000 students from the region participate in more than a dozen programs geared towards kindergarten through 12th grade students. Among the most popular offerings is FEMME, a five-week, summer enrichment program offering girls ages 9-15 hands-on sophisticated projects ranging from dissecting a cow’s eye to building suspension bridges out of popsicle sticks. FEMME, as all NJIT summer programs do, makes difficult math and science concepts relevant, memorable and fun.