Hundreds of area middle school students came to the Millard Oakley STEM Center to learn about what it takes to be a civil engineer.
Approximately two hundred middle school students from Putnam and White Counties came for parts of the American Society of Civil Engineers Southeast Student Conference, hosted this year at Tennessee Tech University. While on campus, they explored more than a dozen student displays about civil engineering, watched steel bridges being built and tested and saw the display of concrete canoes on the quad.
Though engaging younger students is not a traditional part of the conference, organizers wanted to include it in the competition line-up.
“I have a passion for reaching middle school students,” Steven Click, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and one of the faculty organizers, said. “If they don’t get interested in engineering at the middle school level, they don’t take enough math in high school and have difficulty succeeding in engineering.”
For the visual display competition, civil engineering students built a green model of the Volpe Library, including environmentally friendly alterations, including solar panels and a sod roof. Middle school students were then asked to point out the differences between the two buildings and TTU students explained the purpose of the alterations. TTU took third place in the competition.
“It was a big success,” civil engineering student Sarah Hawkins, who helped organize the conference, said. “That was very rewarding to see all the middle school students, they were all excited about what we were learning.”
The project was in keeping with the conference theme, “Green Your Routine.” At the conference, TTU students promoted environmentally friendly habits by handing out reusable cloth bags and organic cotton T-shirts, as well as discussing the increased focus on sustainable practices in civil engineering.
Over the course of the two-day conference, more than 20 universities from around the country, as well as schools from Puerto Rico and China, competed in 15 competitions. Tennessee Tech placed sixth overall.
The conference is held every year on a different campus. TTU last hosted it about a decade ago.
“Through this competition, we really showed that we have a very good civil engineering program and that our students have been well prepared,” said X. Sharon Huo, interim chair and professor in the civil engineering department. “I think the conference events really benefitted our community and also allowed the students from participating universities to demonstrate how wonderful civil engineering is.”