Students step up with LATechSTEP

November 8, 2007

by Richard Wolfe

High school students are designing, building and testing their own bridges.

The students, participants in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics talent expansion program called LATechSTEP, are building paper bridges to learn basic engineering concepts.

Brandon Keck, a LATechSTEP mentor and a senior civil engineering major, said LATechSTEP is an opportunity that allows high school students to be exposed to a small piece of engineering.

“TechSTEP may strike the interest in a student to pursue engineering after graduation from high school and moving on to college,” Keck said.

He also said LATechSTEP may also show children that engineering is not for them, but “the student[s] should not base their lack of interest solely on what they do in TechSTEP.”

Keck said he got involved with LATechSTEP when, Galen Turner, an assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, asked him to help with the program. He also said the program may show students something more interesting.

“The idea is that if they can see one small section of engineering, maybe their curiosity and interest will set in and take over,” Keck said.

Keck said he was not able to become exposed to any type of engineering before graduating high school or for some time after enrolling at Tech.

“It took me much longer to find my place and decide that engineering is the path I will take,” he said.

LATechSTEP has enabled Keck to help younger students.

“My passion is helping others,” Keck said. “TechSTEP will allow me to use this passion to the high school students’ advantage.”

Alicia Boudreaux, student success specialist for the College of Engineering and Science, said LATechStep is a national science foundation funded project with the goal of increasing numbers of graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

She said the students’ current project is making bridges out of manila folders.

“We’re rotating three different projects, year by year,” Boudreaux said.

The other two projects are model fuel cell cars and table-top catapults, she said.

“We try to blend the engineering and science concepts with hands-on projects,” Boudreaux said.

LATechSTEP helps to give students a good idea of what opportunities there are in math and science, Boudreaux said.

“It’s really fun to work with the college students and to be able to watch them pass on what they know to high school students,” Boudreaux said.

She said recruitment is an important part of her job and involvement with LATechSTEP.

“Every year that we’ve done [LATechSTEP],” Boudreaux said,there have been students from TechSTEP that have enrolled at Tech.”

Jim Nelson, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the College of Engineering and Science, said the program is a million-dollar, five-year project.
He also said part of the effort is developing relationships with other teachers.

“We feel that developing long term relationships with high school teachers is the most important part of the projects,” Nelson said.

He said the Tech students participating in the project are a critical link in the program.

Nelson said,”Hopefully we can show [high school students] opportunities and get them interested in science.”