February 19, 2010
Danielle DaSilva presents to students at Moon Area High School in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Currently made up of 12 Penn State engineering students, including six from the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering (MNE), the Engineering Ambassadors is an outreach program that visits high schools around Pennsylvania. The ambassadors give short presentations on engineering topics in order to reinforce the principles that students are learning in their classrooms and to encourage the interest of these students in careers in engineering.
“I see the Engineering Ambassadors program as key to helping high school students understand that there are rewarding careers in engineering,” said MNE Department Head Dr. Karen Thole. “Engineering is important to ensuring the health, happiness and safety of our everyday lives. Our talented mechanical and nuclear engineering majors understand that importance and are helping younger students become aware of the opportunities in engineering through being ambassadors.”
As personal stories from many of the current Engineering Ambassadors show, engineering is not a widely discussed career choice in all high schools.
“As a high school senior, engineering was never discussed as a career path for my interest in science and math,” said junior Danielle DaSilva, who is pursuing a dual major in mechanical and bioengineering. “I feel that when I enter the high school classrooms as an Ambassador, I can present others with options I wish were shared with me four years ago.”
The Engineering Ambassadors program also has the special goal of encouraging the interest of female students in science and engineering.
“Women are under-represented in these fields, and the women in this program seek to foster some interest and provide a role model to show the practical possibility of pursuing a college degree in engineering,” said Melissa Marshall, the faculty adviser for the Engineering Ambassadors group.
Since the start of the program in the Fall 2009 semester, the twelve Engineering Ambassadors were able to reach approximately 800 middle school and high school students from schools such as Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy in Philadelphia, the Grier School in Tyrone, the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Bald Eagle Area High School in Wingate, Moon Area High School and Montour High School in Pittsburgh, and the State College Area High School.
“The reason I learned about engineering as a major was due to an older female student in one of my physics classes in high school. For me, being able to speak to high school physics classes is my way of paying it forward and reaching out to other students,” said junior Kim Harrison, who is pursuing a dual major in mechanical and nuclear engineering.
To gauge the effectiveness of the ambassadors’ presentations, Marshall delivered evaluations to each audience. On average, the high school students agreed that the ambassadors gave them a better understanding of engineering and its sub-fields.
One high school student wrote, “The presentation definitely changed my perspective on engineering, because I didn’t really know the application of engineering other than building roads. I am actually really interested in this field.”
Audiences also generally agreed that the ambassadors delivered the sense that engineering as a profession makes a difference in the world and has an effect on people’s health, happiness and safety.
“It made me realize that engineers don’t just build machines, but they help in many different ways in all kinds of fields,” wrote one high school student. Another said, “It made me a lot more interested in engineering and the whole concept of it, like working with people who help others.”
This spring, the ambassadors will continue their middle school and high school visits and expand to new horizons as well. This month, they will present to the GaLS (Girls Love Science) after-school program in Centre County, and last month they spoke to women in WISE House about the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering.
“Engineering Ambassadors has allowed me to share the knowledge that I have with students who are trying to make decisions as to their future,” said mechanical engineering sophomore Amy Szabo. “Going into schools and giving speeches makes me feel like I am helping them give the profession of engineering a chance by tearing down the false stereotypes most people have of engineering and educating them on the opportunities that it has to offer.”
Mechanical and nuclear engineering students who are involved with the Engineering Ambassadors program include Danielle DaSilva (ME/BioE), Kim Harrison (ME/NucE), Christy Holtzapple (NucE), Katie Kirsch (ME), Abigail Logan (NucE), Amy Szabo (ME), and Becky Tropasso (NucE).
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