Family Engineering Academy brings STEM to local living rooms

UC summer program helps families prepare for college and learn science together

This summer, 17 local families explored engineering together through the University of Cincinnati's Family Engineering Academy, a free virtual learning program for second-through-eighth graders and their families. 

The goal of the interactive academy is to help students discover career pathways in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), demonstrate the work going on at the college and hopefully, inspire young people to be engineers.  

Nearly two-dozen students participated in the eight-week series, which offered participants a variety of opportunities to engage with the faculty, staff and students from the UC College of Engineering and Applied Science and to learn and practice skills used by engineers every day.

a young girl stands on a sidewalk next to a box covered in foil with s'mores ingredients inside

Addisyn Boards waits for her s'mores to cook in the sun-heated oven she created. Photo/Provided by Alicia Boards.

Hosted annually by the college’s Office of Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement, the academy included weekly at-home experiments, live online events and video sharing. 

Every Saturday, families could join a live online session to discuss the week’s activities, ask questions about engineering and hear directly from engineers about what they really do in their daily work and its impact on our world.  

Students explored various fields of engineering such as electrical, mechanical, aerospace, and materials engineering including topics like shape-memory alloys, racecars and crash cushions, thermoelectricity, aircraft design and tower building.

An admissions counselor from the college gave a presentation about preparing for college and was available to answer questions from parents and caregivers about helping their children explore their interest in STEM, from home learning to college preparation. 

Academy participants Anthony (3rd grade) and Jonathan Guy (2nd grade), Maria-Pierre (5th grade) and Marcelino Kwuimy (3rd grade), and Addisyn Boards (2nd grade) share their experiences. 

What was your favorite part of Family Engineering Academy?

two children work together on building something out of drinking straws and tape

Anthony and Jonathan Guy work together to build a tower from drinking straws and other household materials. Photo/Provided by Sheva Guy, PhD.

Maria-Pierre: My most memorable experience was the s’mores/easily cooked food experiment. I liked it because it was fun to do, it was very challenging, you had to use sharp materials and it was a long process, which I really enjoyed.  

Jonathan: Building the ramp for the car was my favorite activity because I liked building it out of different materials, like wood and an egg carton. We also used cotton balls and we taped them to the back of our cars so they could be air bags. 

Anthony: My favorite part was when we built the straw tower, because all the towers we built were cool and it was fun to do.  

Addisyn: When we made the s’mores and learned that the sun can heat up things.  

Marcelino: When we made ovens to melt marshmallows because I like building things and I was able to test the oven. The marshmallows tasted so good.  

What is something you learned during Family Engineering Academy? 

Jonathan: I learned that you can use different materials to build different things. If you don’t have a material you need, then you can use something else. 

Anthony: When we built the ramp for the car, I learned that when we added something to protect it, it bounced back a little bit but the car without protection bounced farther. 

Maria-Pierre: It helped so, if in 5th grade, we create or do problem-solving, I can find ways to use the ideas or tips in the future from the program. 

Addisyn: Patience and listening and having fun. 

Should other kids participate in the Family Engineering Academy? Why? 

Addisyn: Yes. Because it is very fun, and you get to learn new things. You never know what fun activities you will do. You also get prizes. 

Marcelino: It refreshed my mind and helped me get ready for school because it talked about different subjects. 

Anthony: Yeah, other kids should join because it is where you learn about materials and how to use them. 

Jonathan: Other kids should do Family Engineering Academy because science is cool.

I liked how the activities showed various aspects of STEM while also allowing my daughter to have fun and engage in everyday concepts that she could relate to.

Alicia Boards, Parent and Family Engineering Academy participant

Alicia Boards, Addisyn's mother, shared her experiences as a parent and participant. 

As a parent, what did you enjoy about the Family Engineering Academy?

I feel as if the Family Engineering Academy was a great early exposure to age-appropriate STEM concepts. I liked how the activities showed various aspects of STEM while also allowing my daughter to have fun and engage in everyday concepts that she could relate to. 

Even as a parent, I enjoyed engaging in some of the activities with my daughter. I also found it helpful for us to work together in building or trying to figure out how to do the activity for the day. I appreciated the time we spent together and sharing in this experience.  

Would you recommend the Family Engineering Academy to other families?

Yes, because it was a low stakes, but enriching opportunity for young kids to participate in over the summer. I think it is important for [kids to have] these hands-on opportunities that are age appropriate and related back to their own lived experiences as a way to see STEM as a future interest or career path later down the road.  

More specifically, it is a great way to also engage students who do not come from a home or family with STEM background or exposure. As a parent, we can only share what we know or things from our own path unless there are opportunities like the Family Engineering Academy for our kiddos to partake in! 

Today's Students, Tomorrow's Leaders

Early engagement with STEM, through programs like the Family Engineering Academy, help young students expand their skill sets, explore educational opportunities beyond the K-12 curriculum, and discover potential pathways to fulfilling careers that make a positive impact on society. 

Read more about the Community Engagement programs offered by the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Featured image at top: Anthony and Jonathan Guy show off their straw tower. Photo/Sheva Guy