Cummins Engineers Welcome Students to the Wonders of STEM

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Some students at Schmitt Elementary will soon spend part of their school day having fun with rubber bands, straws, plastic tubes and other household items.

Not to worry, it’s just the second year of an innovative introduction to the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) called the Curiosity Machine. More than 70 Cummins engineers will be helping 5th and 6th graders at the school build airplanes, rockets and other cool stuff.

“These young learners have been empowered to develop their curiosity to understand how things work, their creativity to try new ideas and their persistence to find a solution despite failures,” said Karen Green, a teacher at the school in Columbus, Indiana (USA). “Schmitt Elementary appreciates the time and energy Cummins employees have given to better prepare our students for the future.”

Mukul Aggarwal, a Quality Engineer in Cummins Fuel Systems in Columbus, oversees the program. He hopes it will help students decide whether a STEM career is right for them.

“Everyone should get some exposure to STEM,” said Aggarwal, who says he saw too many students in his native India rush into STEM without a chance to experience it first. “Then they can choose whether it’s something they really want to do.”

Cummins engineer Mukul Aggarwal talks about cantilever beams at Schmitt Elementary in Columbus, Indiana (USA), during the 2015-2016 school year.
Cummins engineer Mukul Aggarwal talks about cantilever beams at Schmitt Elementary in Columbus, Indiana (USA), during the 2015-2016 school year.

 

It’s a different situation in America, of course. There’s a concerted effort to increase interest in STEM. Engineers are in high demand and manufacturing jobs often go unfilled because potential employees don’t have the necessary technical skills.

The Curiosity Machine is a global web platform created by a non-profit group called Iridescent. Its mission is to “create and deliver powerful science, engineering and technology education” to help underprivileged children and youth.

The program’s website includes numerous design challenges to engage students in STEM activities while also giving them the chance to interact with STEM professionals. Over the past seven years, the program has had more than 60,000 student participants worldwide.

As they tackle the challenges, students follow the design process engineers learn early on in their training – Inspiration, Plan, Build, Test, Redesign, and Reflect. The students also get a feel for what it’s like to be an engineer or a professional in another STEM field.

The Columbus program started at three city parks in the summer of 2015. It expanded to Schmitt that fall and, after a second year in the parks, it will be back again at Schmitt in September. Parents are invited in periodically to see what their children have been creating.

During the 2015-2016 school year, 182 students were paired with Cummins mentors, who contributed more than 400 hours. Together, they worked on more than 700 hands-on engineering projects.

“Growing up around many engineers, including my own father, provided me with valuable exposure to engineering as a career option,” said Jennifer Rumsey, Vice President – Chief Technology Officer at Cummins and the corporate sponsor of the initiative.

“Programs like Iridescent can play this valuable role for future generations of engineers because in many cases, the first hurdle is a limited awareness of these careers.”

The Cummins – Iridescent team, led by Tripti Gupta and Aggarwal, are also working on two other related programs:

  • The Technovation Challenge is an initiative focused on increasing the number of women in STEM. A team of high school girls will work with a Cummins mentor to develop a pitch for a STEM-related start-up addressing a community issue. They will join other teams at a regional competition for the opportunity to advance to Technovation’s world competition and the chance to win up to $10,000 for their idea.
  • The Design Challenge Hackathon was created to increase the number of design challenges in the Curiosity Machine. Cummins engineers are working to develop challenges based on company technology. The best will be filmed and published on the program’s website.

Rafael DeVasconcellos, a Corporate Responsibility Project Leader at Cummins, works with employee groups across the company on projects to increase interest in STEM. He says the Curiosity Machine in Columbus works for several reasons.

“To me, this program is so successful because it creates a meaningful connection between Cummins employees, students and parents,” he said. “The teaching methods are designed so that students exercise scientific inquiry, critical thinking and their problem solving skills.”

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This article is part of a 2016 series that highlights STEM (Science Engineering Technology and Math)-related topics. You can read the other articles here.

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