Professors, volunteers reach out to community

Brittni Cooper, News Contributor

Sparking an interest in K-12 youth, volunteers from the College of Science and the College of Engineering, with guidance from an associate professor, are working to promote the field of engineering.

Oregon State students have volunteered their time to coordinate Family Science and Engineering Night (FSEN) events at local schools through diaper experiments and daring kids on Segways.

Skip Rochefort, an associate professor of chemical engineering in the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering and the Executive Director of OSU Precollege Programs leads this outreach with Margie Haak, an instructor and coordinator from the College of Science. Rochefort and Haak have traveled with student volunteers to the Salem area, Albany, Lebanon, Lacomb, Wilsonville, and more school in the surrounding area.

Student volunteers travel to different schools in the area in an outreach effort to elementary school, middle school, and high school students. These Family Science and Engineering Night events are often hosted in a school’s gymnasium or cafeteria with several activities for K-12 students to participate in.

At FSEN events, there are many activities in place for kids and their families to participate in. One activity the group puts on involves a tortoise and another involves a microscope for the young students to look at their skin. Kids also have the chance to create gel beads from two liquids, look at the absorbency of a cotton ball versus the absorbency of a diaper, and the opportunity to ride a Segway.

“The point of these experiments is to say, ‘This is what an engineer has created,’” said chemical engineering major Kayla Al-Khaledy. “They’ve taken something that wasn’t very useful like cloth diapers, where you’re leaking everywhere and they’ve made a chemical so the diaper will absorb all of the liquid. We want to get them thinking about the different things that engineers can do through these simple science experiments.”

In a ten week term, the group will host around eight FSEN events that are typically once a week on Thursday evenings. An elementary school will sign up online for the Oregon State group to visit their school and do a FSEN.

“Sometimes it’s integrated with something (the school) already has planned, like a library night or a science project night,” Rochefort said, “We go there and bring a bunch of activities. So basically, we show up at a school, it’s an empty gym, we put our activities in there and the whole community comes in.”

From kids to their parents and their grandparents, an entire community will show up at a school to participate in FSEN events. Emily Nicholson, of the Precollege Programs, works to schedule FSEN events.

Haak and Rochefort recruit from their classes and departments via email and Doodle polls. About 25 students devote their time to the outreach program.

Last year with the campus visit program, 5,000 K-12 students were brought to Oregon State. A number of camps take place during the summer and during the school year. Discovery Days is a two-day outreach event at the LaSells Stewart Center that brings in 1,500 younger students. Similar to the activities at FSEN events, Science, Engineering and Art day at Goss Stadium engages kids with the help of the Corvallis Knights.

“Our department, historically has done this for years and years. We didn’t always call it this, but we’ve been doing outreach forever. So it’s kind of inbred in our community. Some of it comes out of the COE student club, but not necessarily. It’s anybody who wants to do it,” Rochefort said.

Oregon State student volunteers are impacting the youth in our surrounding communities. Rochefort started his first outreach program in 1997 and has seen kids from these outreach efforts walking the Oregon State campus years later.

“I know a lot of those kids have come through over the years,” Rochefort said. “I see them walking around (campus) and I have them in my classes. I can’t tell you an exact number. I would certainly like to think (outreach) has helped a lot of kids.”

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