Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects play a significant role in today’s society globally. However, a recent survey shows that young adults, especially in the United States, seem to overlook the value of STEM subjects. Disinterest in STEM by the next generation of adults could lead to a dilemma that we cannot meet the demand for skilled engineers in the future. Efforts should be made to help the younger generation realize the importance of STEM subjects and attract them to fields such as engineering. The Future Renewable Electric Energy Distribution and Management (FREEDM) precollege program described in this paper is one such effort. The FREEDM precollege program uses renewable (i.e., green) energy as a platform to help high school students realize the value and importance of STEM and to encourage them to pursue a higher education, and even more so an engineering career, for example, within the electric power industry.
The program lectures, tours, and activities are designed to inspire high school student interest in engineering and encourage them to enter college and study in a STEM major after graduation from high school. In the four-week summer commuter program, the high school juniors and seniors, designated as Young Scholars, learn about renewable energy in four different ways. The class time primarily comprises interactive presentations focused on the topics of electrical energy and renewables. In order to provide real world engineering examples and to expand the students’ familiarity with various engineering branches, multiple tours (e.g. power plant site visit, and 3-D astronomy show) are arranged. Some additional activities, such as a debate centered on renewable energy resources, learning how to solder, and an introduction to engineering computer tools, supplement their learning and provide them some valuable skills for their future studies. The signature activity is having each student work on an individual project that is related to energy conversion. Past projects have included a solar powered car, wind turbine, and LED lighting from human-generated kinetic energy. A weekly oral presentation provides the students the opportunity to share what they have learned during the week and report on the progress of their project. A science fair style poster presentation is scheduled for the last day of the summer program.
By participating in this month-long summer program, the Young Scholars learn about renewable energy and how to produce electricity using different resources, including non-renewables. In addition, they acquire a brief taste of college life and motivation to prepare for college. By comparing the pre-program and post-program survey results for the Young Scholars, the FREEDM precollege program has met its goal of instilling the students with an understanding of engineering careers. Furthermore, by participating in this precollege program, the students state that they have gained more confidence in their future studies and they believe that they can do well in college.
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