Introducing High School Students to Chemical Engineering

By Jason Huang

The goal of my project for the AIChE Apprentice program is to provide local high school senior/junior students a general description of chemical engineering. I scheduled a 40-minute presentation to the high school students and prepared to present on the topic of "What can chemical engineers do?"

The talk was planned to cover a variety of chemical engineering applications, including petroleum technology, material research and development, the food industry, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical engineering. After an extensive background study, I decided to include the following examples for my presentation:

  • Flow assurance in the oil and gas industry
  • Catalyst design for the automotive industry
  • Design of advanced materials for flexible display
  • DNA/protein detections with nano-particles

After coordinating with the school teachers, I learned that the students who would come to my presentation are mostly juniors/seniors from the school science club and who have taken a few AP classes. To tap their previous knowledge of basic science while creating a connection with the students, I tried to reference their basic knowledge of physics, chemistry and biology with my examples, such as the gas law, reaction kinetics, the structure of a DNA molecule, etc. I also kept each example very brief and reminded myself that the goal of the presentation was not to teach or to go over what they had learned, but to instead use the key words to let them know that sometimes the seemingly "boring" equations/theories in the book could actually be very helpful in our life.

What are the potential career paths for chemical engineers?

Here, I discussed several post-college options, such as industry, graduate school, medical school, law school, business administration, etc. The potential career paths for these options were introduced including teaching, research, and development, process and project management, law, sales, and marketing. I also emphasized that these are general career paths, but that the path could be very different for everyone. I also explained that as a young engineer, I am in the process of defining my own career path and I think it is always good to learn something new.

What should chemical engineers learn?

To cover this topic, I discussed with the students some basics of chemical engineering classes, including thermodynamics, transport phenomena, and reaction engineering. I summarized what one can do after taking these classes and I shared some of my teaching/studying experience with the students to let them know that being proactive and thinking critically can take them a long way.

There was also about 10 minutes of Q&A where more practical and personal questions were asked, such as choosing a schools and the difference between academia and industry. I shared my perspectives while highlighting the fact that others might have different views.

Assessing outcome

To determine the outcome of the presentation, I designed a survey for the students to fill out after the presentation. With a few multiple choices, I asked the students to evaluate both content and presentation. I also asked the students if they felt more interested in becoming a chemical engineer or more confidence about this career option, and if they have any suggestions to help me improve my presentation. It was very rewarding for me to find out that the most of students felt that the examples were interesting and easily understood, and that my personal experience was helpful for them as well. They told me that they liked the humor that I applied in my presentation, and one of them actually encouraged me "not to be afraid to make even more jokes."

I have always loved teaching and I felt really fortunate that I had such an opportunity to profit from the young apprentice program by talking to the students, to understand them, and to hopefully make an impact on their lives.

If you'd like to see Jason's presentation, you can download part 1 here and download part 2 here.

What helped you decided to become a chemical engineer?


Nemoy's picture

Very cool apprentice program! I would love to see how this presentation impacts the student's interest in STEM summer camps/programs in their local university. Could you make a webinar or put the presentation up on ChEnected?

Jason's picture

Thanks Nemoy! I have submitted my presentation slides to the AIChE Apprentice program and I will find a way to discuss with them to see how to work it out.

Jill's picture

I think it is great that you went and mentored to high school students. We need the younger generation to be educated on the STEM fields, and motivate them to pursue these promising career pathways. Keep the technology pipeline flowing!

Jason's picture

Thanks, Jill. I was actually surprised how many students were interested and how much they had learned in science and engineering. The local school teachers at the science club or the science honor society also provided great support to facilitate our discussions. Now that the fall semester has started I would like to extend my presentation to more high schools students and keep working on it.

David Mota's picture

We have develop an Education &amp; Outreach program at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, which is aimed to introduce K-12 Students to Chemical Engineering and Pharmaceutical Engineering. Recently, we published the general scope and initial assessment of the initiative. Please find the bibliography and link below: Motivating K-12 students to study pharmaceutical engineering using guided hands-on visits. Education for Chemical Engineers, Volume 7, Issue 4, December 2012, Pages e219&ndash;e229 <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>

Jason's picture

Thanks David! I can see that your program is certainly more specific with the use of various hands-on modules! There are certainly a lot of ideas that I can learn from your program! I have aback ground of fluid dynamics simulation and I am thinking maybe I can design some short modules with animation like wine pouring in a glass or air flow around a car on a road... Anyway I will think about it and thanks!!!

Georgia's picture

Jason, this was a tremendous, much needed project, and I applaud you for taking on the challenge. The information presented to these high school students is exactly what my son is looking for in his investigation of post-secondary areas of study. He&#039;s looking into chemical engineering, along with other engineering or pharmaceutical careers, but can&#039;t find any &quot;practical&quot; information on these careers. Is this available as a webinar, video post, or other form for a student to learn from?

Jason's picture

Thanks for your kind words Georgia! You certainly bring-up a very good point about the importance of a practical information. The examples about how the knowledge that they would learn in college/graduate school can help solve problems in our daily life is of equally importance. One the key elements in this task is to understand the theoretical principles of various applications of chemical engineering and highlight them using simple physical science language that that can be easily understood by the high school students to draw a close connection. Thanks Douglas for sharing my slides! I am currently working on a new presentation for this fall semester to include more examples and I will certainly share it here for your comments!