Education column: Students get first-hand look at engineering

Following upon recent articles where we’ve provided updates on construction across the school district, I went this week to observe construction actually taking place inside a classroom at Highland Elementary — while students were present!

Truth be told, it was the students doing the constructing — Kendra Peloquin’s classroom of Gifted and Talented students at Highland Elementary. Peloquin explained: “I decided to teach engineering to my GT students because engineering gives students the opportunity to solve problems by applying principles of math and science with critical thinking, and there are endless possibilities for fun and challenging design projects.”

The inspiration came from an article in Bloomberg Business Week that discussed some of the misconceptions about the field of engineering, one of which was the fact American engineering students’ futures looked bleak due to outsourcing.

Peloquin began by inviting experts in to introduce her GT students at Highland, Cameo and Sandia Elementary schools to the fields of engineering: Civil, biomedical, aeronautical, mechanical and environmental. Peloquin continued, “Between now and the end of school … our projects will consist of designing a new natural playground, building skyscrapers out of newspaper, constructing a suspension bridge from cardboard and rope, designing a futuristic biomedical implant or prosthetic, and designing flight patterns for individual aircraft if cars could fly.”

To that end, Peloquin invited two engineers from Cummins Natural Gas Engines to come and talk to her students at all three schools.

Scott Odom, a mechanical engineer, and Ashmita Singh, an electrical and control systems engineer, came and not only did a presentation to the students about engineering, but broke them into groups, providing them with materials for a design/construction competition, hence the construction taking place in the classroom when I arrived.

Students were engrossed as these two engineers not only described the fields of engineering, but also interactively provided examples, photographs and conducted the building project with the kids.

Singh, originally from India, discussed the increasing number of women in the field of engineering, and she shared characteristics of field of engineering: Getting to solve problems creatively, designing things that matter, having job flexibility, traveling and making a good salary, working with a variety of great people. She concluded that engineering was a way to make a difference and change the world. Odom emphasized the building blocks were simply being able to read, write, and do math, sharing that engineering was about finding the best solution for a problem, which ended up being the most creative, efficient, as well as cost-efficient.

When, at the end of the class, the two Cummins engineers presented each of the students with a metal plaque, engraved with “To Honor Our Future Engineer,” I can guarantee I wasn’t the only one who wanted to be an engineer.

Margaret Mead noted, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the instructional technology coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at cindy.kleyn-kennedy@clovis-schools.org-