Students and children standing around the Mobile STEM Roller Coaster in an elementary classroom.

UAH Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Product Realization students present a Mobile STEM Roller Coaster to Harvest Elementary School students in fall 2019.

Harvest Elementary School

Two teams of senior students in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Product Realization (MAE 490) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) are designing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) tool products to engage and inspire economically challenged K-12 students to enjoy the subjects and pursue a STEM career.

One team is working on a Wind Tunnel STEM tool for the UAH student section of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to use for K-12 STEM outreach events while the other develops a Dash Robots Recharging Station for Madison Cross Roads Elementary School.

The Wind Tunnel team is led by Patrick Rugel and includes Ian Stuart, Nicholas Alawine, Nash Beasley, Levi Cox, Chance Hunt and Jared Sampson.

Rugel says that as lead he’s learned there are key points to being an effective leader, supporting team members in an effective way to facilitate each part of the project and also progressively organizing and observing each part of the project for a successful project as a whole.

“As a leader you can’t focus on any one specific part of the project,” he says. “However, you must look at each part of the project and organize it in such a way that the entire project can be successful.”

The Robots team is led by Morgan Jones and includes Andrew Brewster, Nicholas Hall, Cole Miller, Brandon Ploshay and Nick Richardson.

Being the team lead is a big responsibility, Jones said.

“You must listen to your team's problems and create quick, effective solutions. There are always new tasks to keep up with, for myself and for each of the team members,” he says. “You have to take baby steps throughout the process and make sure everyone is on the same page. We all have one goal and it's my goal to lead us to it.”

Part of a STEM outreach effort to primary and secondary education that spans more than a decade, the new tools the teams create will be delivered this fall. Women in Defense is a major program sponsor and past sponsors include Northrup Grumman and Toyota.

“We intentionally target K-12 schools and groups such as boys’ and girls’ clubs that maintain a high population of minority students or students from economically challenged homes,” says Dr. Christina Carmen, MAE clinical associate professor, who teaches the course.

“The goal has been to specifically reach out to Title I schools that receive school-wide assistance, meaning at least 40% of the students come from low-income homes, and schools with high numbers of students whose demographics are underrepresented in STEM fields, especially engineering,” she says.

“A child's future shouldn't be dictated before they are even born. As a leading engineering education institution surrounded by hundreds of engineering companies, UAH can help turn the tide.”

The UAH students are required to engage the K-12 students in the design process from very early market surveys to final delivery and demonstration of the product.

UAH MAE Product Realization classes have delivered over 60 STEM tools in over 12 years of the program. Recent projects include:

  • A STEM Station Project for Madison Cross Roads Elementary that includes an assembly manual and an educational video about the engineering design process employed to design the STEM Stations, which are a handicapped accessible enclosure for conducting STEM work;
  • A Mobile STEM Roller Coaster delivered to Harvest Elementary;
  • A Robotics Table delivered to Riverton Middle School;
  • A Dueling Tops STEM tool delivered to Williams Boys and Girls Club.

“These efforts represent our drop in the bucket to help turn the tide of systemic racism and provide children with an opportunity that can impact their life, and that is the ultimate goal,” says Dr. Carmen. “Children shouldn't have greater or fewer opportunities based upon zip code.”

She believes the projects also have an impact on UAH engineering students.

“So many engineering students have had their eyes opened to the plight of many in society,” Dr. Carmen says. “Hopefully, they will carry these lessons with them throughout their lives.”

STEM tools are a variety of products that enable K-12 students to engage in hands-on learning activities. Research shows that children garner a greater understanding of STEM topics when they are presented in a tactile manner as opposed to a theoretical manner.

“The STEM tool products created in the MAE Product Realization design class are typically requested by a K-12 educator, whether it is via a K-12 school or other entities,” Dr. Carmen says.

Examples of past UAH student team STEM tools are a fluid flow circuit, mobile roller coaster systems, wind tunnels, a dyslexia demonstrator, a solar vs. mechanical energy system, a kinetic and potential energy demonstrator, a pulley mechanical advantage system and mobile robotics carts.

“These STEM tool efforts can impact young lives and perhaps spark an interest in a field that has a wealth of opportunities provided by NASA, the U.S. Army and too many engineering companies to list,” Dr. Carmen says. “These industries are part of these children's communities but for many the chance to work for them is not imaginable.”

Among the schools and organization that have received UAH made STEM tools are Williams Middle School, Guntersville High School, Huntsville High School, Discovery Middle School, St. John Paul II Catholic High School, Harvest Elementary School, Madison Cross Roads Elementary School, Greengate School, Mt. Carmel Elementary School, Mill Creek Elementary, Madison Elementary, Horizon Elementary, Riverton Middle, Walnut Grove Elementary, Providence School, Sci-Quest Children's Museum, James A. Lane Boys and Girls Club, Williams Boys and Girls Club and Elswood Secondary School in South Africa.



Dr. Christina Carmen

Jim Steele