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How STEM Outreach Programs Helped Me

Growing up, I had no idea what I wanted to be. I knew that I loved putting things together, building, and basically any hands on activity we did in school whether it was in art class, science labs, etc. In my first two years of high school, I grew to love math and science, specifically physics. In my junior year of high school, I knew what my very broad interests were but no specific major or career path stood out to me.

The summer after my junior year, it was time to figure out where I wanted to go to school and at least have an idea of what I wanted to study. I began to search for summer programs at different universities that I could attend to help me discover what I wanted to do. My searches were centered around math and science when I happened upon a tiny program called the Summer Engineering Institute at Georgia Tech. Growing up, I had heard about engineering, but I did not fully understand what was encompassed within studying or having a career in engineering. To me, especially as a woman, engineering felt like this faraway, unattainable career that only involved cars and spaceships. After more research, I learned that the Summer Engineering Institute was created to give under- represented minorities the opportunity to have real-world engineering experiences. Every summer, the program accepts thirty students to come to Georgia Tech for three weeks and work in groups to complete a research project. At the end of the program each group presents their project to Georgia Tech faculty as well as a variety of companies. The program gives students the full college experience by living in a dorm, attending daily classes, and completing various homework and small projects throughout the three weeks. This program peaked my interest mostly because of its opportunity to experience college and work on an interesting project. I decided to apply not fully expecting to get in due to the small number of students accepted every summer. When I received the notification that I had been accepted to the program, I immediately second guessed whether I should attend or not. I was nervous that I would not be smart enough or that I would not enjoy this thing called engineering. After realizing that it was in my best interest to get this experience, I decided to go!

My three weeks at the Summer Engineering Institute completely changed my perspective. I had the opportunity to learn exactly what engineering is. In a broad sense, I learned that I could use my creative side while using math and science to solve real problems. During the program, groups worked with Georgia Tech grad students on their research projects. The groups would then have to create their own product and company based on the project. The project I worked on involved using running water to cool down electronics. I remember having zero idea what my grad student was teaching us as it was all intense calculus, heat transfer, and fluid dynamics. Even though I did not fully understand the technical aspects related to the project, I really enjoyed the experience of working on a team to create something basically out of nothing. When the three weeks came to an end and final presentations were complete, I felt more accomplished than I ever had before. It was this experience that allowed me to make a firm decision to study mechanical engineering.

Now, as a fourth-year mechanical engineering major and industrial design minor student at Georgia Tech, I always try to be involved in outreach programs at Georgia Tech. I am currently in a club that visits elementary schools to teach young students what engineering is. We teach them that engineering is very broad and there isn’t one type of person suited to be an engineer. I wish that I had been introduced to this field as young student so I am very excited to give students the opportunity to learn about engineering at such a young age. I truly believe that engineers make the world a better place, so for those studying or working in fields related to engineering, it’s very important to share that passion with others as you never know who it could affect!

– Kayli Newton, RTC Fellow + GATech Senior

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