Inspiring the Next Generation of Conservation Engineers

One of the core missions of our new Robotics Program is to pursue education outreach opportunities. I
gave a talk on March 3rd about my career path as an engineer and my new job as the Robotics Program
Director to 4th grade students. I engaged with 96 very excited students at Brookside Elementary at
Oak Park USD, which I later found out, is one of the highest performing school districts in the nation.
These students thought that whale snot was gross and were very aware of their environment!
My talk covered a wide range of topics from how I got interested in engineering to how much oxygen
the oceans produce. These students asked a lot of interesting questions – Do you like working in teams
more than by yourself, can you figure out how healthy I am if you take a sample of my snot? Not only did
they walk away with a sense of how large the ocean is and how much it supports us, but they also got
to ask questions about a field that most of them don’t really know about– robotics engineering. Growing
up, my sister (who’s fifteen years older than me) used to come to school and do read-aloud days, and
after talking to many of these instructors I realized that it’s actually very rare for young professionals to
come and interact with the students. These 4th graders found it easier to relate to me than many of their
teachers, and I think many of the teachers appreciated the different perspective I brought to the table.
One of the key takeaways I got was a sense of how our public schools are trying to incorporate the
Common Core– a sort of set of guidelines on how to change the curriculum and teaching methods
to focus on developing reasoning skills. I won’t go into detail here, but it was interesting that this was
another school district similar to the one I had grown up in– high achieving school system with very few
elementary and middle school students interested in engineering because most of their parents and
role models were not in STEM fields. Although things like LittleBits are now available so that younger
students can get involved with tinkering, there are a lot of challenges for many instructors because of the
fairly large learning curve to understand the advances in technology.
I think there is a huge opportunity for OA’s Robotics Program to inspire the next generation of scientists
and engineers to pursue an interest in using technology to help preserve and protect the natural world.
I’m hoping to stay in touch with many of these schools and help develop better engineering education
programs that tie together real-world relevance with ecosystems and robotics.
– Adela Wee, Olin College Engineer

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