Boston Area Engineering Deans Confer About K-12 Engineering Outreach

Tufts hosted the meeting, which focused on positive STEM learning experiences

Merredith Portsmore talks to a group of engineering school deans at a meeting at Tufts University about STEM education.

Tufts University’s School of Engineering recently hosted a meeting of engineering deans and school representatives from across the region to discuss K-12 engineering-education outreach and other STEM initiatives.

Engineering schools in the greater Boston area have a shared mission of reaching beyond their walls to support the next generation of K-12 students in having positive, meaningful STEM learning experiences and the interest and skills to pursue STEM careers. These experiences reach students in the adjacent communities, across the U.S., and, in some cases, across the globe. The meeting proved a valuable opportunity for area innovators in engineering education outreach to explore common goals, as well as opportunities to collaborate on future initiatives.

Eight colleges and universities were represented—Tufts University, Boston University, Harvard University, MIT, Northeastern University, Olin College, UMass-Amherst, and UMass-Lowell—and the round-table discussion on June 6 explored topics relevant to accessibility and education in STEM fields, including programs focused on reaching youth in underserved and underrepresented populations.

The afternoon featured a series of presentations on innovative programs, followed by a conversation on next steps. Merredith Portsmore, director of the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO), offered an overview of CEEO’s global leadership in integrating engineering into K-12 education through outreach, products, research, and workshops.

“Our suite of programming really helps students achieve what we know they can achieve with a little guidance,” Ellise LaMotte said. Photo: Anna Miller“Our suite of programming really helps students achieve what we know they can achieve with a little guidance,” Ellise LaMotte said. Photo: Anna Miller
The goal of the center is to create the next generation of problem solvers, she said, by making sure all students have access to high-quality, research-informed STEM education. The center works to achieve this goal by researching teaching and learning in K-12 STEM, creating tools and resources for education, and creating programs that provide access and opportunities for students and teachers. “Children are budding engineers, and teachers are an integral part of the process to foster children’s curiosity about engineering,” Portsmore said. “Our center brings research to practice and practice to research.”

When speaking about STEM student transitioning from high school to college, Ellise LaMotte, director of Tufts’ Center for STEM Diversity (CSD), stressed the importance of an inclusive and diverse learning environment for underrepresented students.

She highlighted the positive outcomes that the CSD’s programs achieve, including Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST), a six-week summer bridge program for incoming engineering students, and Redefining the Image of Science and Engineering (RISE), an academic advising course designed to support academically talented first-generation students pursuing degrees in science and engineering. “Our suite of programming really helps students achieve what we know they can achieve with a little guidance,” LaMotte said.

Among the other presentations, representatives from MIT described The Initiative for Learning and Teaching (TILT), a program designed to bring MIT’s “hands-on, minds-on” learning approach to K-12 learners and teachers around the world through the development of new technologies, services, and curricula. Northeastern University, for its part, reaches a diverse audience of students and teachers through its afterschool and summer, daylong, and multi-week STEM program offerings. And Boston University hosts rising seventh through ninth graders each summer for its U-Design science and engineering program; meanwhile, high school students can attend Design the Future, a fully-immersive design thinking summer program.

The group of deans reflected on how providing quality K-12 STEM experiences is essential for ensuring that all students have access to STEM as a pathway. While fundamental and developmentally appropriate STEM knowledge and skills are important, the group also discussed how building students’ confidence and connecting STEM to their interests are key aspects of the work.

The group plans to collaborate to build capacity and to increase the number of students and teachers who have access to these efforts. “All of these universities have a deep commitment to the communities we are in and the next generation of students,” said Jianmin Qu, dean of the School of Engineering at Tufts and Karol Family Professor. “Our coming together can help all of us improve education and opportunities.”

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