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UT Austin Brings Engineering Education to High School Students and Teachers

This fall, Engineer Your World, an innovative high school engineering curriculum created at the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, announced it will reach 3,000 students in 77 schools across the country — up from 750 students in 23 schools in 2012 — marking a significant expansion in its effort to provide accessible, high-quality engineering education and better prepare U.S. students in STEM fields.

Engineer Your World includes a full one-year curriculum for students, as well as a summer training session at UT Austin for teachers who will instruct the course in their high schools. Developed four years ago by UT Austin faculty, Engineer Your World is part of the National Science Foundation-funded UTeachEngineering program, a collaborative initiative dedicated to developing leaders in the emerging field of secondary engineering education. The curriculum is designed to engage both teachers and students with hands-on, socially relevant design challenges. For example, in the course’s Systems Engineering unit, students build an aerial imaging system to capture imagery of a disaster zone, and in its Discovering Design unit, they design a pinhole camera for people with disabilities.

teacher training engineer your world

A teacher practices one of the design challenges during an Engineer Your World training session.

Created by a team of experts, including engineering faculty, professional engineers, K-12 teachers and curriculum experts, and NASA engineers, the curriculum challenges students with projects that foster collaboration and leadership. In teams, they learn how to manage engineering projects to design, prototype, test, analyze and refine data-driven solutions.

In four short years, Engineer Your World has grown from a Texas-based pilot initiative to a national program. The number of students participating has quadrupled since 2012, and this fall the curriculum will reach high schools in 12 states.

“The fact that we’ve grown so quickly demonstrates that there is a critical need for high-quality, low-cost engineering curricula in U.S. secondary education, and I am proud that we’re helping to meet that need,” said David Allen, principal investigator for UTeachEngineering and a professor in the Cockrell School’s McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering. “Looking ahead, we have the infrastructure in place to train hundreds of additional teachers.”

As part of its effort to expand its reach, UTeachEngineering is offering up to $6,500 in equipment and training support to offset implementation costs of Engineer Your World. This means that new partner schools joining the program in 2015-16 will pay less than half of the normal start-up cost of the curriculum.

After attending and completing the summer training session, teachers gain access to ongoing support through instruction coaches and monthly video conferences with fellow teachers. The program has trained and supported more than 120 teachers from various academic backgrounds.

With a growing demand for engineers across industries, engineering coursework is becoming more common in high school education. At the same time, there is a shortage of STEM educators nationally.

“Students are taking engineering earlier and earlier, yet little is known about effective engineering education at the secondary level,” said Cheryl Farmer, program manager for UTeachEngineering. “We’ve created a truly exceptional program that provides quality teacher training and is aligned with best practices in both secondary education and industry.”

The curriculum is designed to appeal to a diverse student population, including females and underrepresented minorities.

“Our course has been able to appeal to all students — with all backgrounds — because it clearly shows them the impact they can have on the world as engineers," Farmer said.

"All engineers have a toolbox of skills that they use to solve problems,” Farmer added. “Students may start Engineer Your World with an empty toolbox, but they get new tools and get to practice with old tools, in every unit. By the end of the year, their toolboxes are full, and they are ready to solve many engineering challenges.”