Educational fun takes center stage at 2016 Engineering Expo

Students from North Miami Middle School perform in a bottle rocket experiment with FIU's SHPE

Students from North Miami Middle School perform in a bottle rocket experiment with FIU’s SHPE

More than 1,500 elementary, middle and high school students from around Miami-Dade County had the opportunity to experience engineering first-hand at the 2016 Engineering Expo.

Held at FIU’s Engineering Center, the annual event offers FIU engineering students a chance to engage with the community by teaching their young peers the importance of pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math—and demonstrating the fun that can accompany those jobs.

In the morning, North Miami Middle School robotics students participated in a bottle rocket experiment set up by FIU’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. They learned that by pumping air into a bottle of water, pressure builds up and creates the thrust needed to propel the bottle rocket into the air.

Teacher Diana Antoine said the expo is a good opportunity for her students to see engineering principles in action.

Ranu Jung, interim dean of the College of Engineering and Computing, speaks at the expo's opening ceremony

Ranu Jung, interim dean of the College of Engineering and Computing, speaks at the expo’s opening ceremony

“I really think that it’ll get them interested in doing these careers,” Antoine said. “They love building, they love constructing. But then they need the science behind it.”

Antoine said that learning about STEM early on helps expand children’s scope of learning.

“It gives them the time to be a well-rounded, critical thinker,” Antoine said, “because a lot of them think on a surface level. But if you get them into STEM, it gets them to think a little bigger, outside of the box.”

In the background, the roar of the engine in the racecar built by FIU’s Society of Automotive Engineers wowed a group of kids from Pembroke Pines Charter Middle School. And across campus, students from G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School got advice on how to improve their own rocket from FIU’s American Society of Mechanical Engineers, who demonstrated how various elements burn to propel a rocket’s engine.

Ranu Jung, interim dean of the College of Engineering, feels the expo is an important feature of the college’s year-round endeavor to engage the community in engineering and computing and spark children’s interest in the field at a young age.

“It is about creativity. It is about innovation. It is about entrepreneurship. They see the power of thought and innovation right from their early childhood,” Jung said. The more students know about it, the more they are going to contribute to how we live and what our lives are.”

The College of Engineering and Computing opened up the center’s various facilities throughout the day for students to tour, including the Wall of Wind hurricane simulator; the Motorola Nanofabrication Research Facility; computing, civil, biomedical, and mechanical engineering classrooms; and more.

FIU's ASME demonstrates how different elements burn at the 2016 Engineering Expo

FIU’s ASME demonstrates how different elements burn at the 2016 Engineering Expo

High school students even took the stage at the expo. Miami Springs High School’s robotics club, the RC Kings, presented their remote-controlled car, as well as a green project they’re working on to create a phone charger that goes in the sole of a shoe and charges with each step.

St. Brendan High School sophomore Victor Barreto, who aspires to become a biomedical engineer, said that touring the center gave him a feel for what college will be like. Barreto is part of St. Brendan’s STEM academy and robotics club, so he was excited to explore a robotics program at FIU that works with NASA to develop code.

“I’ve always been very good at science, and math has always come very easy to me,” Barreto said. “I like looking at complex machines and trying to see how they work, looking inside and taking them apart. That always caught my attention, so it led me toward engineering.”

Jung said the expo encourages FIU students to get involved in the community, and it’s also a way to have fun.

“I think the event is exciting,” she said. “It’s huge, and it’s driven a lot by our own students, who are giving back to the community from which they have come.”

Story – Clara-Meretan Kiah (FIU News)