The STEM Days Program
For nearly 30 years, the Albert Nerken School of Engineering at The Cooper Union has been providing outreach opportunities to high school students from the New York City area. Through close guidance of our faculty members and teaching assistants, the high school students perform STEM-focused research and design during a six-week summer program.
These outreach efforts have expanded into the academic year, where fifth through twelfth graders are being immersed in one-day, intensive experiences that expose them to the diversity and impact of the STEM fields on modern society. These field trips to Cooper Union start with a tour of the New Academic Building at 41 Cooper Square, where the synthesis of art, architecture, and engineering are discussed in terms of the design trade-offs that are struck as practitioners collaborate to build multidisciplinary projects of this scale.
The students are then subdivided into small groups and tasked with a variety of engineering challenges throughout the day. Past examples include: 1) building an electric motor from scratch, 2) designing, building, and crushing bridges made from lightweight, recycled materials, 3) running an internal combustion engine, 4) determining the efficiency of water pumps, 5) writing and executing computer code they implement with microcontrollers, and 6) learning the basics of 3D printing and laser-cutting. A gallery from a STEM Day with LaSalle Academy is found here.
Cooper Union undergraduates teach these modules under the guidance of faculty members and technical staff. The STEM Day experience is designed in close collaboration with the partnering school such that it aligns with what is being taught in their science and math classes. In the past, some schools have opted for a tour of the laboratories and a lecture – both representing their students’ first introduction to the STEM fields outside the classroom. Other schools have had their students perform four experiments on laboratory-grade equipment. For some schools, visiting Cooper Union is not feasible due to scheduling, busing, and funding. In these cases, Cooper Union students have visited the partnering schools with design and experimentation kits – we call this trip STEM-To-Go.
Historical Note: This outreach program was first established through a partnership between Cooper Union students from the Formula SAE Team and Pi Tau Sigma (the Mechanical Engineering Honor Society). Organized with teachers from MELS, this collaboration brought seventh graders to Cooper Union to learn about energy efficiency and alternative fuels during winter break in 2007. During spring break, Cooper Union students repaid the visit by traveling to MELS and leading a workshop with students there constructing fuel cell powered model cars. The model cars constructed by MELS students were assembled from kits donated through a joint initiative between the John Deere Corporation, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and A World in Motion. These kits were developed to help budding engineers learn about the complex packaging and technical applications involved in automotive engineering, and in particular, how to produce mechanical power from basic hydrogen and oxygen. Cooper Union has also partnered with LaSalle Academy, Grace Church School, Quad Preparatory School, Icahn Charter School #1, Islip Public Schools, and Waseda Juku to continually enhance this program.