Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

FIU Introduces "Engineers on Wheels" to Promote STEM in Miami Schools

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

FIU Introduces "Engineers on Wheels" to Promote STEM in Miami Schools

Article excerpt

The awareness of engineering as a profession in the minori community isn't there. Seeing minority role models turns the light bulb on in our heads that maybe that's want I'd want to do. " X Amir Mirmiran, dean of the FIU College of Engineering and Computing.

It's never too early to start motivating students to consider careers in engineering and other STEM majors. That's the bottom-line of a new program launched at Miami-based Florida International University (FIU). Started in September 2014, Engineers on Wheels brought FIU engineering students who designed new products into two South Florida high schools to stimulate conversations about what it takes to become an engineer and the varied careers in that field.

In 2015, Engineers on Wheels expects to broaden its scope and visit seven or eight high schools in South Florida. "Our goal is to get students excited about a career in engineering," said Amir Mirmiran, dean of the FIU College of Engineering and Computing.

The impetus for the program, noted Mirmiran, a native of Iran who immigrated to the U.S. in 1984, was a visit to FIU of engineering faculty from a German university. The university, which is located in a rural and not very populated area of Germany, outfitted a student lab truck to travel to middle schools and high schools to spur interest in engineering programs. Why couldn't we do that in South Florida, Mirmiran wondered?

He enlisted the assistance of the Chrysler Corporation, which was interested in attracting and retaining talented engineers. It donated funding to get the program off the ground and acquire the van.

The program has several goals including recruiting engineers for FIU and spurring interest in the STEM fields. "We look at this as a public service as well as a recruiting effort," Mirmiran noted.

Engineers on Wheels fits perfectly into the Miami-Dade County public schools, explained Cristian Carranza, its administrative director of academics and transformation. The district already possessed a mobile unit for the purpose of enriching math and science content in elementary and middle schools. "It was a perfect solution since we didn't have a mobile unit of our own for high schools," said Carranza.

Reaching two schools this year and nine next year only scratches the surface. Miami-Dade County includes 62 public high schools so more is needed. "There's a financial cost in materials and personnel. Bringing in community partners such as Chrysler and insuring that there's ongoing financial support is critical to expanding its coverage," said Carranza.

Engineers on Wheels brings talented FIU engineering and STEM majors to South Florida high schools to show innovative designs, explain how they were developed, discuss the varied disciplines in engineering, and how students might forge a career in the field.

The program fosters the idea that students require "a strong academic foundation" in high school to succeed as engineering or STEM majors in college. "We've been trying hard to connect with middle school and high school students in districts in Miami and the county in South Florida to not only choose computer science and engineering as a profession but to make sure they prepare for those majors in high schools," Mirmiran said. "Waiting until senior year to major in STEM areas is often too late."

When Engineers on Wheels visited Booker T. Washington High School in Miami and Stranahan High School in Fort Lauderdale, both sessions took place in classrooms with 30 to 100 students, not in an auditorium. Mirmiran felt that the more intimate settings enabled FIU students to create a dialogue with students. …

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