June 12, 2007

Purdue seeks to 'INSPIRE' young engineers, research

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University's College of Engineering is reaching out to elementary teachers in hopes of conducting research and reinforcing the future job force in a field that is lagging in numbers.

Purdue's Department of Engineering Education will conduct two sessions of weeklong INSPIRE academies to teach third- and fourth-grade teachers some basic engineering lessons to take back to their classrooms next school year.

The first academy, scheduled through June 15, will be attended by teachers from the three school districts in Tippecanoe County, as well as the Hamilton Southeastern and Greencastle school systems. Teachers from Indiana and across the nation will attend the second academy, set for July 8-12.

It's the second consecutive year for the academy, which is funded by Purdue alum Steven Bechtel Jr., and its mission serves multiple purposes.

"We are predominantly a research center, but in order to do research we need to make connections with teachers," said Heidi Diefes-Dux, associate professor in the Department of Engineering Education and INSPIRE's managing director. "We're doing teacher professional development, but our focus is very much on research.

"In the long term, we're trying to make a fundamental impact on how we're educating kids at the primary and secondary levels."

That is a key goal in a field that is lagging in numbers. According to a brochure produced by INSPIRE, the United States graduates 75,000 engineers each year, while China graduates 350,000 and India produces 200,000.

Meanwhile, more than half the U.S. work force in the sciences and engineering is approaching retirement age, according to the brochure.

"Our goal is to get teachers to feel comfortable talking about engineering and about what engineers do, and show them age-appropriate design problems to bring to the classroom," Diefes-Dux said. "The teachers will see a lot of lessons and be able to integrate some of these activities in their classes."

Purdue researchers will show the teachers during the academies how to design windmill blades and water filtration systems.

The sessions also will help Purdue researchers gauge how students learn engineering and how teachers can use it in their curriculum.

The Department of Engineering Education is the former Department of Freshman Engineering. All freshmen engineering students must still go through a first-year engineering program. However, the department expanded its mission two years ago to include a graduate research program in engineering education.

As with last year's INSPIRE academies, this year's sessions are limited to 30 people both weeks. Teachers signed up for the second academy come from states as far away as Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Missouri and Pennsylvania.

Writer: Jim Bush, (765) 494-2077, jsbush@purdue.edu

Source: Heidi Diefes-Dux, (765) 494-3887, hdiefes@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

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