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DesignLab, UMass Lowell’s innovative after-school science and engineering workshop, recently received a much-needed shot in the arm when the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education awarded it a three-year, $250,000 grant from the state’s STEM Pipeline Fund. Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and a longtime supporter of DesignLab, has been one of the leaders in making sure that STEM Pipeline funding for such projects are available statewide.
DesignLab is one of five student-education and teacher-training programs being offered by the University’s Future Engineers Center, which is quickly becoming one of the Commonwealth’s leading providers of informal Kߝ12 education in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. Each year, the Center also conducts DesignCamp, an on-campus summer program that’s now being replicated at universities in Boston, in Bremen, Germany, and in London; TechCreation, a web-based after-school enrichment program for middle schools that is a collaborative venture with Asst. Prof. Fred Martin of the Computer Science Department; the Assistive Technology Design Fair, which showcases devices designed and built by high-school students to help people with disabilities or special needs; and DC High-Tech, a series of advanced, pre-engineering summer workshops for selected sophomores and juniors.
“Our mission is to engage students and teachers in challenging, hands-on, design-based science and technology activities in order to interest more students in, and better prepare for, careers in science and engineering,” says Center co-founder and executive director Doug Prime. “Since the inception of DesignCamp in 2000, we’ve developed STEM programs that have engaged more than 3,000 students and 150 teachers.”
In addition to the STEM Pipeline grant, DesignLab has received $130,000 from the Noyce Foundation, $100,000 from the American Honda Foundation, $35,000 from the Motorola Innovation Generation Grant and $22,000 from Boston Scientific. These funds go a long way in helping realize DesignLab’s five-year, $1.4 million expansion plan to formally develop, pilot-test and publish eight after-school engineering workshops for middle schools.
“Our plan involves training 125 teachers from more than 50 middle schools who will teach hands-on engineering programs to more than 7,500 students in Massachusetts by 2011,” says Center assistant director Deborah Finch. “To date, we’ve raised $925,000 in funding commitments, which is approximately two-thirds of the funding needed to achieve these ambitious goals. Our other major partners include Mark Gelfand and Raytheon. We’re still looking for a few additional major sponsors to join our consortium of ‘founding partners’ to help support this significant initiative.”
Under the plan, DesignLab will provide schools with “invention kits” and project guides to do fun and challenging design projects as well as classroom toolkits for all the workshops. “Developing highly engaging, design-based project kits, along with instruction videos and a comprehensive website to support teachers, is the most feasible and economical way to significantly increase the number of middle school students engaged in STEM programs,” says Prime. “We’ve already received inquiries from more than two dozen schools that are interested in offering our workshops, and it seems like we can’t get our programs out there fast enough.”
According to him, in February they started working with 14 new DesignLab pilot teachers in schools districts from Lowell to Lynn, and many teachers reported that two to three times more students signed up for the workshop than they could accept into the program.
“This new group of teachers will instruct three different workshops over the next year to 500 students in grades 6 and 7, which is almost the same size as DesignCamp,” says Prime. “By 2009, DesignCamp won’t even be our largest program; if we can raise the rest of the funding we need, we plan to run at least three DesignLab teacher-training courses every year, with each course having 42 teachers. Our goal is to engage more than 1,500 students annually in DesignLab programs.”
For more information about DesignLab and the Future Engineers Center, contact Prime at Douglas_Prime@uml.edu; (978) 934-3481, or visit umlfutureengineers.