The first AIChE K-12 STEM Outreach Competition was held at the 2019 AIChE Annual Student Conference. Local grade school students had the opportunity to interact with tabletop demonstrations created by AIChE members, focusing on topics ranging from fluorescent polymers to water remediation to power generation. Over 25 proposed module submissions were narrowed down to 16 finalists, consisting of student chapter teams and teams of member professionals.
We caught up with Matt Dailey, member of the University of Utah student chapter team, to talk about his team's participation in the competition. The team won first place in the undergraduate category by demonstrating how to build an air-quality sensor using toy building blocks.
What inspired you and your teammates to enter the AIChE K-12 STEM Outreach Competition?
We have been doing outreach events with great success over the past few years, and we talked as a team and felt like this competition was a great way to showcase our different teaching modules. We were excited to see what other outreach teams had come up.
How did you come up with the idea for your winning submission?
Both our modules are based on faculty research in our department. We wanted to build both of our modules so that they would engage any age group and allow them to develop a better understanding of the core principles of the research and how it applies to the real world. For our Lego Air Quality Module, we focused on the core principle of how the air-quality sensor works, focusing on scattered lights and photoresistors attached to micro-controllers. For our Human Thermoelectric Power Module, we focused on how a Peltier works and how we can generate electricity from temperature gradients.
What was your favorite part of the competition?
My favorite part of the competition was getting to meet other outreach programs from other universities and seeing how they came up with their ideas, as most of the schools had region-specific modules tailored for their university. In addition, it was such a cool experience to meet the other AIChE members who were going to showcase our modules for after the competition was over.
What advice would you give to other AIChE members interested in participating in K-12 STEM outreach?
I would say the most important advice I could possibly give would be not to be afraid to engage with your community. There is such a push for higher education in STEM nowadays, and as soon-to-be chemical engineers, it is such a good opportunity to inspire someone from your community to pursue not only engineering but STEM in general. Aside from that, the best way to get involved is to just start.
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