K-12 Outreach

Duke, NCSU Launch National K-12 Engineering Program

A new program designed to stimulate interest in science and technology in students from kindergarten to 12th grade was announced by the engineering deans at Duke University and North Carolina State University during last week's National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges Summit in Raleigh.

The Grand Challenge K-12 Partners Program will enlist colleges of engineering across the country to serve as community resources for K-12 students, teachers and administrators in their region. Partner colleges would develop age-appropriate engineering materials and curriculum, periodically host regional conferences, and provide ongoing support and professional development for teachers. Partner colleges also will freely share their materials, curriculum and experiences on the national program website.

“We can accomplish so much by introducing engineering at the K-12 level, such as influencing technology literacy early on and cultivating a mindset to address big societal problems,” said Tom Katsouleas, dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke. “We also hope that by teaching youngsters to develop a problem-solving orientation to the world, something we call ‘engineering habits of mind,’ we may also encourage more students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. That is good for the country.”

The Grand Challenge K-12 Partners Program is designed to focus attention on the Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century, identified by the NAE in 2008. The Grand Challenges are a critical grouping of problems that must be addressed and solved in order to maintain our national security, quality of life and sustainable future. Examples include making solar energy affordable, engineering better medicines and making clean water available to everyone.

“The Grand Challenges for Engineering provide an important framework for highlighting the critical integrative role that our field plays in enhancing science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiatives nationwide,” said Louis Martin-Vega, dean of the College of Engineering at NC State and former acting head of the Engineering Directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF), where he worked to find ways to bring engineering into more K-12 classrooms. “The support this initiative will provide to K-12 teachers in program and curriculum development will be especially valuable.”

Duke and NC State hope to hold the first conference for the Grand Challenge K-12 Partners Program during the 2010-11 academic year. The next several months will be dedicated to reaching out to prospective engineering colleges and schools partners, and to the K-12 educational community.

The K-12 focus of the NAE Grand Challenges is expected to gather further momentum at upcoming summits scheduled this spring in Boston (Wellesley, Babson and Olin colleges), Phoenix  (Arizona State University), Chicago (Illinois Institute of Technology) and Seattle (University of Washington), culminating in a final summit at the University of Southern California Oct. 6-8.