The Engineering Place: A Promising Practice for Including Students with Disabilities in K-12 Engineering Outreach

Date Updated

The Engineering Place at North Carolina State University (NCSU) educates K-12 students, K-12 teachers, families and other the citizens of North Carolina about the nature of engineering and the opportunities and careers within engineering. The Engineering Place offers hands-on, inquiry- and problem- based programs and informational workshops and tools. The vision is that every student, educator, and parent, including those with disabilities, in North Carolina will know when engineering is and its impact on everyday life. The Engineering Place actively recruits students with disabilities to participate in their programs, since they are rarely encouraged to pursue engineering fields.

The Engineering Place applies the principles of universal design to meet the needs of all participants. For example, they ensure that the spaces they use are accessible, that appropriate assistive technology is available, and that alternate formats of handouts are provided. They also have a diverse group of undergraduate volunteers that participate and serve as role models for participants, ensuring that the younger students are aware that there are engineers from a variety of backgrounds.

Specific activities of the Engineering Place include Engineering on the Road, informal learning settings, and summer engineering camps, as described in the paragraphs that follow.

Engineering on the Road

The Engineering on the Road program brings engineering to life in K-12 schools. Through interactive demonstrations and hands-on activities linked to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study, this program incorporates the engineering design process, the engineering habits of mind, and the Grand Challenges for Engineering into each activity to reinforce content as well as key engineering skills. Programs are customized to meet the needs of the school or organization and for small- and large-group events. NCSU engineering faculty and staff visit schools during the school day to lead interactive events. They also bring participants to campus for interactive tours and activities. For example, school groups can visit the Engineering Place at the Solar House to learn about solar energy and sustainable design and to actively engage in hands-on engineering activities to design wind generators or LED flashlights.

Informal Learning Settings

Informal learning settings include Family STEM Nights and the Museum Partnership Program. Family STEM Nights are offered at local schools throughout the school year. For each Family STEM Night, NCSU faculty and undergraduate volunteers take approximately 20 hands-on STEM activities to the school. The events typically run from 6:00 to 7:30 pm. During this time, families have the opportunity to rotate between activities. NCSU faculty and undergraduate students provide instruction on STEM concepts related to the challenge at each station. These events allow families to engage in engineering activities and to discuss with faculty and students fields of engineering, the Grand Challenges for Engineering, and the transition from high school to college. Typically, about 250 parents and students participate in each event.

Through the Museum Partnership Program, The Engineering Place travels to an area museum to hold a 2-hour informal workshop for students and families visiting the facility. NCSU faculty and undergraduate students design the activities to be engaging and instructive in a STEM concept. Activities require students to collaborate in a small design team, apply what they know and their creativity, and complete the engineering design process.

Summer Engineering Program

The Engineering Place at NCSU offers six weeks of summer engineering camps in Raleigh and at satellite sites throughout the state. These camps include a residential Summer Engineering Experience for Students with Visual Impairments or Blindness. Common threads through these camps include: the engineering design process, engineering habits of mind, and the Grand Challenges for Engineering as defined by the National Academy of Engineering. These camps also introduce high school students to challenges that derive from engineering research at NCSU and the transition from high school to an undergraduate engineering program.

The Engineering Place is a promising practice for increasing awareness of engineering to all K-12 students, teachers and other stakeholders because it is a multifaceted approach to exposing students to exciting, engaging, applicable engineering problems and activities through various forums and actively recruits and supports students with disabilities. It effectively makes use of existing people, facilities and resources established in engineering curriculum and programs within the K-12 and postsecondary systems.