High school outreach program: Attracting young ladies with “engineering in health care.”

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YESS (Young Engineers and Scientists Seminars) is an enrichment program for gifted and talented high school students from the Baltimore/Washington areas who have a strong aptitude in mathematics and science fields. The program, founded in 2002, is funded by the Historical Electronics Museum with a grant from Northrop Grumman. Previous YESS speakers have addressed diverse topics such as plasma physics, stealth radar, biomedical imagery, super computers/micro technology, aeronautical engineering, astrophysics and satellite reconnaissance.

In recent years, the program has been revised from a strictly seminar series to a hands-on program designed to help students understand the engineering design process. Since revising the format of the program, average attendance has more than tripled to a 2006-7 level of 107 students. Two-hour sessions are held biweekly and students learn how to go from brainstorming to designing, building, and testing. In an attempt to attract more young ladies to the program (as well as to encourage them to pursue engineering as a career), the 2007-8 program focuses on “Engineering in Health Care”. The percent of females attending the program in recent years has ranged from 10 – 28%.

Each week, a presentation is made on a topic related to engineering in health care. New this year, the featured speakers are young ladies who are studying engineering (as undergraduate or graduate students) or are medical students who have undergraduate engineering degrees. One of the presenters has also worked in the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the National Institutes of Health. At the conclusion of each presentation, students participate in mini hands-on design challenges, which require the utilization of newlylearned concepts as well as general engineering methods. Following the sessions of seminars and mini challenges, the students must combine concepts they have learned to design, construct and test an efficient and cost effective hemodialysis system which removes ‘impurities’ from simulated blood.

The overall effectiveness of the YESS program is determined based on observation of an improvement in implementation of engineering concepts and methods as the program progresses. To assist with this analysis, each team is required to keep a design notebook to document the evolution of the final design. In addition, participants complete pre- and post-surveys measuring interest, attitude and content knowledge of the engineering design process and the underlying principles associated with a successful hemodialysis design solution. The results of these findings are documented, compiled, and presented. Since this is the fourth year of this revised program, comparisons are made to examine the evolution and the success of this high school outreach program; as well as to determine if the “Engineering in Health Care” topic is successful in attracting more young ladies to this high school enrichment program.