McNeese State University has partnered with the Calcasieu Parish
School System and CITGO to bring STEM education to over 900 elementary students
in 23 participating
elementary schools through a national program called Engineering is Elementary.
is a national STEM
education program developed by the Museum of Science in Boston, Mass., that is
designed to engage elementary school students to STEM education in creative ways with hands-on learning, discovery and exploration using
the engineering design process, according to Dr. Nikos Kiritsis, dean of McNeese’s College of
Engineering and Computer Science.
He discovered EiE three years ago
when he was looking for a way to spark the interest of his son, then a third
grader, in the science, technology, engineering and math areas.
"Sparking a student’s interest in STEM is critical at a young age,”
has revealed that by the time students reach fourth grade, a third of boys and
girls have lost an interest in science, and by eighth grade, almost 50 percent
have lost interest or deemed it irrelevant to their education or future plans. I was looking for some kind of program
my son and I could do together that was hands-on and fun while also being
Kiritsis was excited about the EiE program and saw the potential
educational value for both the community and McNeese. So, he partnered with Dr. Ning
Zhang, McNeese associate
professor of mechanical engineering, and they initiated a weekly pilot after
school program that met for 15 weeks in the spring of 2015 at the McNeese SEED
Center with 25 third grade students.
"Students and parents were
enthusiastic so I approached officials at the Calcasieu Parish School Board
about expanding the after school EiE program,” says Kiritsis. He even brought
in Museum of Science President and Director Dr. Ioannis
Miaoulis to talk with officials.
According to Darrell McDaniel,
STEM educator development leader for the school board’s PROGRESS Project, EiE
seemed the perfect program to bring STEM education to students in Calcasieu
"The PROGRESS Project seeks ways to improve student
success and educator effectiveness
in 20 priority schools in Calcasieu Parish and EiE presented a concrete method towards
this goal,” said McDaniel. "Our EiE pilot program launched in 2016 with 100 fourth
grade students in six schools.
CITGO also wanted to be involved and matched the
Calcasieu Parish School Board funds for the project through its STEM Talent
Pipeline program, which provides grants to schools and educational
organizations to promote STEM awareness and instruction.
"With this combined support and
enthusiasm, EiE was able to expand quickly,” said Kiritsis.
While the program is still
relatively new, McDaniel says that the board has already seen a large impact
not only on students but also with teachers. "Now teachers are assigning students
a problem that’s open ended and has many different solutions that the student
can pursue, providing much more of a hands-on learning experience in the
classroom,” says McDaniel.
The program features modules that
present "unique” problems to students. In the "Rockets and Rovers” module,
students are asked to design rockets that that can carry
autonomous rovers to explore different planets and moons. In "Bubble Bonanza,”
students use different materials to create bubble wands and discover the
science of how bubbles behave. Kiritsis and Zhang provided training to teachers
on these modules.
As a result of the program’s
successes, some teachers are bringing methods and techniques from EiE into
their regular classrooms.
McDaniel and Kiritsis say that future
plans are to hopefully expand the after school program into all 35 of Calcasieu
Parish’s elementary schools, as well as potentially bring the program into
Kiritsis says the partnership
with CITGO and the school board is a win-win situation. With assistance from
the McNeese College of Engineering and Computer Science, the first CITGO Design
Challenge was held this week to celebrate National STEM Day. The challenge
featured nine EiE teams of fifth graders from Calcasieu Parish schools tasked
with designing and building a mousetrap car. McNeese engineering faculty served
as judges for the competition.
Also, F.K. White is hosting an
upcoming robotics competition and two sixth grade EiE teams coached by Kiritsis and Zhang are entered in the competition and
are made up of students from the original pilot class of third graders in the
"The STEM areas are where the best jobs of
tomorrow will be and EiE is igniting a spark that will hopefully help fill
those jobs,” says Kiritsis.