UT Engineer’s Idea Makes Science a Hands-On Activity

Building off the theory that immersion is better than explanation, students will have a chance to get some hands-on experience with scientific research thanks to UT College of Engineering doctoral student Caroline Bryson.

Bryson, a biomedical engineering student, wanted to increase involvement in and understanding of STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—research.

Her idea was to have what could be described as a reverse science fair, where students come and participate in projects rather than just sit and watch them.

The result: “Stempunk,” a fair that will be part of MITES—Middle School Introduction to Engineering Systems—camp this summer.

“Taking part in something has a far more lasting effect than hearing about it or seeing it,” said Bryson. “If we want to get kids interested in the STEM fields, having them actively take part in experiments should make for a much better experience for them.”

Bryson, whose own research comes in the field of medical robotics, reached out to UT’s Travis Griffin, director of the college’s Office of Diversity Programs.

Among other things, Griffin’s office runs a popular series of summer camps that the College of Engineering hosts annually.

He and Bryson agreed to try to incorporate her idea into the MITES camp, which runs from July 26 through 29 and is for rising seventh graders.

“Our MITES 7 program selects rising seventh-grade students who demonstrate interests within math and science and gives them a feel for what engineering is all about,” said Griffin. “The College of Engineering is fully committed to providing engineering awareness for middle school students and instruction on successful preparation [for college]. The idea of having this kind of science fair during the MITES 7 camp helps accomplish that.”

While the concept of a science fair in reverse is unique in and of itself, the idea of how to set up and execute it also sets Bryson’s plan apart.

Steampunk, a literary and pop culture movement in which Victorian attire and materials are used to make modern machinery and equipment, would give way to Stempunk.

The visual aspect of the event is intended to draw interest from students and allow collaboration with departments and colleges outside of engineering, such as art and marketing.

“There’s a visual appeal to steampunk that would also help draw interest and stoke imagination,” said Bryson. “It would also serve as a great way to make it a truly collaborative event.”

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)