UC architectural engineering alumna inspires high school students

Emma Wilhelmus teaches engineering at a Cincinnati high school

University of Cincinnati alumna Emma Wilhelmus fell in love with engineering when she was in ninth grade. After taking drafting, architecture and engineering courses in high school, she set out to major in architectural engineering in college. Now, she is an engineering teacher at a local high school and hopes to inspire students. 

Emma Wilhelmus poses with the UC Bearcat at graduation

Emma Wilhelmus earned her bachelor's degree in architectural engineering from the University of Cincinnati.

At the time, architectural engineering was not offered at many schools in the state or even the country. Out of the schools Wilhelmus was considering, only a handful of them offered her major of interest. Her familial connections to the university along with the benefits of the co-op program led her to choose UC. 

"My mom was a Bearcat, my sisters were Bearcats, so I just grew up wanting to be a Bearcat," Wilhelmus said. 

After earning her bachelor's degree in architectural engineering, she accepted an industry position at an engineering company, the same one she worked at for several of her co-op rotations. She worked there, postgrad, for a few years but began yearning for more. 

"I really needed a change, and education kept popping up in my head," Wilhelmus said. 

An open teaching position fell into my lap, and I decided to take the leap. It was serendipitous.

Emma Wilhelmus CEAS alumna

Wilhelmus' interest in teaching stemmed from her volunteer experience in college. Through her years at UC, she volunteered at local libraries organizing engineering events for children to get them involved and thinking about STEM. This left a lasting impact on her. 

"An open teaching position fell into my lap, and I decided to take the leap," Wilhelmus said. "It was serendipitous." 

The position was a career technical teaching role in engineering, a role in which Wilhelmus could perfectly combine her passion for engineering with her passion for inspiring the next generation of scholars and engineers. 

Through her industry career, Wilhelmus maintained close ties with Amanda Webb, UC assistant professor of architectural engineering. Wilhelmus often spoke on panels and shared her experience to Webb's students in class and in the UC chapter of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). When she left industry, Wilhelmus made sure to let Webb know to keep that connection alive. 

UC students stand at the board in the front of a classroom of high school students

UC students came to Emma Wilhelmus' class for an outreach event about engineering.

During her first year of teaching, Webb reached out to Wilhelmus and proposed a partnership between the UC ASHRAE students and Wilhelmus' high schoolers. Through the partnership, ASHRAE would come to the school and host an activity that is both fun and educational for the students. 

Last year, the competition was called "keep the heat." Students were given a wooden box, a beaker of boiling water and materials for insulation. The objective of the activity was to insulate the water and keep it warm, the team that kept the water at the highest temperature won. 

"The activity taught students about heat retention, ventilation and what ASHRAE focuses on," Wilhelmus said. "The kids really enjoyed it." 

The event was such a success in 2023 that Webb, Wilhelmus and the ASHRAE students were eager to do it again in 2024. The focus of this year's competition was construction planning and management. Students were given Lego sets to build a predetermined structure. However, a constraint of the building process was that each student was assigned a specific role, and team members had to work together and communicate effectively with one another to build their structure correctly and efficiently. 

"This year's event aligns perfectly with what I teach my students in class. I highlight collaboration, communication, critical thinking and how to multitask," Wilhelmus said. 

UC students teach in the front of a classroom of high school students

UC ASHRAE students teaching high schoolers about STEM.

A team's keep the heat project

The 2023 outreach was titled "keep the heat" — which challenged students to insulate a beaker full of boiling water with provided tools.

The critical thinking piece of an engineering education is what Wilhelmus wants to ensure her students take away from her class. This is what enables engineers, like herself, to be equipped to work in a vast range of roles and industries. Working as a teacher in the community Wilhelmus grew up in provides her with a deep sense of purpose and connection. In industry, many of her projects were not local, so she didn't get to experience the true impact of her work. As a teacher, she gets to witness this change daily.

"I teach at a school close to my house, I'm very involved in the community, and my job as a teacher is fulfilling," she said. 

From the students' perspective, outreach like this one that exposes them to engineering and current college students can provide a model for them. The UC students show high schoolers who are interested in STEM where they could be in a few years. They can learn about the co-op program at UC and all of the opportunities at CEAS and college in general. 

"For the students to be able to meet someone who is closer to them in age and learn about what they're doing in college, it gives them the ability to make that connection and start thinking about what they want to do after graduation," Wilhelmus said. 

For Wilhelmus, connection is very important to her. Her connections with UC and Webb enabled her to provide enriching experiences like these events to her students. For years throughout her time as a co-op and working in industry, she was dedicated to building a network that could better help her in the future. When she transitioned into education, this was one of the ways her network was able to do that. 

Featured image at top: UC Mantei Center

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