Gearing Up for Engineers Week

Dance floors, electric highways, and design competitions are among planned activities

13 January 2012

So many people showed up for last year’s Discover Engineering Family Day in Washington, D.C., that most exhibitors ran out of giveaways by early afternoon. When the event was over, it had set a National Building Museum one-day record for attendance for any show: 13 994 visitors, shattering the event’s previous mark of 8178. Could this year’s Family Day, being staged on 18 February, set a new attendance figure? The affair—likely the largest U.S. event of its kind devoted to engineering—leads into U.S. Engineers Week activities in the nation’s capital. EWeek 2012 runs from 19 to 25 February.

Family Day features dozens of hands-on activities, plus presentations and giveaways provided by local engineering chapters and national organizations to help foster an interest in engineering among children and promote technological literacy.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and Battelle Memorial Institute are the EWeek co-chairs. Battelle, of Columbus, Ohio, is an independent research and development organization, working to advance scientific discovery and applications. IEEE-USA, which heads IEEE’s U.S. EWeek activities, served as lead society in 1993 and 2004 and is scheduled to do so again in 2014.

“Our hard work is rewarded by the satisfaction we have on Family Day when we see thousands of children, students, parents, and teachers enjoying themselves and learning about engineering,” says Bruce Cranford, chairman of the Family Day Planning Committee.

Cranford, a semi-retired aerospace/mechanical engineer, has led the committee for more than seven years. He says Family Day has three major goals: “First is to interest and encourage students in engineering. Second is to interest students in becoming technicians. The third is to improve technical literacy within the general public, because I think this is very important if the United States is to remain competitive in the world.”

IEEE-USA, ASME, and the National Engineers Week Foundation are Family Day’s major financial sponsors. The National Building Museum—which is involved with architecture, engineering, and design—donates the space.

“It’s hands-on learning, and it’s about bringing the community together to celebrate engineering, which is so closely connected to architecture,” says Joanne Seelig, family programs manager at the museum. “There are so many connections between engineering and the built environment.

“We celebrate that families are able to learn together. I think it’s really engaging, and there are a lot of opportunities for kids to have their first experience with engineering.”

Engineers for WGBH—the Boston TV station that produces the PBS engineering reality show Design Squad Nation—are building a dance floor for the event that is an oversized version of the one used in its Dance Pad Mania activity. The project teaches youngsters how to design and construct a device in which dance steps control sound and light.

Susan Buckey, WGBH senior outreach project director, says the station hopes to have Deysi Melgar, a former Design Squad contestant and avid dancer, demonstrate her dance moves and the electrical engineering behind “a supersized dance pad contraption.”

IEEE-USA’s exhibit at the museum will feature Dance Pad Mania as well as a version of the show’s Electric Highway project, which is a circuit that connects a battery and buzzer using four types of materials. The exhibit is designed to illustrate how electricity is conducted and provides power. An activity to find out what materials conduct electricity—and which ones don’t—is popular among young children. Also planned is a demonstration of how basic electrical circuits and light bulbs operate.

The National Science Foundation plans to bring its tsunami wave tank to Family Day again this year. Also returning is the popular “Slime” activity from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. (Watch TV reports on last year’s event.)

Ways to Participate
Many local EWeek events are held simultaneously across the United States. For example, the DuPage Area Engineers Week Expo, in Wheaton, Ill., is scheduled for 25 February. Broomfield, Colo., is preparing to hold Game Creation on the same day for those interested in designing and building arcade-style video games.

Check with your local IEEE section to find out what is planned in your area. If you’re looking for activity ideas go to The EWeek Get Involved! page. Or, EWeek’s Discover “E” can help you plan a school visit or extracurricular event.

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, 23 February, is another popular EWeek activity. Engineers reach out to preuniversity girls with positive messages about engineering and technology careers, as well as math and science education. The IEEE Women in Engineering affinity group and the Society of Women Engineers participate.

Also in January, the regional championships of the Future City Competition are staged around the country. The annual engineering design competition attracts about 33 000 students from approximately 1100 middle schools each year. Under the guidance of an engineer and teacher, children create their own vision of a future city, working first on a computer and then constructing three-dimensional scale models. The students also write an essay about a predetermined challenge the city might face. Judges assess the merit of each team’s entry, and the top teams get to go to Washington, D.C., for the national finals on 21 February.

Also during the Future City finals, the IEEE-USA Best Communications System Award is presented to the team deemed to have the most “efficient and accurate communications system.”

Future City judges are always needed, so if you’re interested, contact Bill Knight, national program manager.

You can also follow EWeek activities on Facebook.

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