Newark High applauds UD researchers for outreach to students
Pictured are, from left, Dirk Heider, assistant director of CCM at UD; Anastasios Melsaris, president of NHS-PTSA; NHS students James Idsari and Isaac Watkins; NHS science teacher Stewart Dotts; and Shridhar Yarlagadda, assistant director of CCM.
Area high school students attending a lab demonstration as part of Engineering 101.
An engineering student instructs a parent and child on the use of a graphing calculator.
Avon Grove High School students Kaitlyn Brittingham, left, and Danielle Hess, right, experiment with plastics during PlastiVan presentation.


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8:33 a.m., Dec. 16, 2010----When members of the Newark High School Parent-Teacher-Student-Association (NHS-PTSA) wanted to enhance the science education curriculum at NHS to better prepare students for college, they turned to researchers at the University of Delaware for help.

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Over the last year, an interdisciplinary relationship has developed that is giving next-generation scientists and engineers at NHS a leg up over their peers, through hands-on research experiences and unique educational opportunities at UD.

Dirk Heider, assistant director of UD's Center for Composite Materials (CCM) and associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is one of the UD scientists involved in the partnership. NHS students Isaac Watkins and James Idsardi were among 50 students who participated in composites research in Heider's laboratory as part of CCM's 2010 undergraduate summer internship program.

“Both Isaac and James were involved in evaluating new manufacturing processes to reduce cost and improve performance for large-scale applications such as wind blades, Marine and Army components. They did a phenomenal job and presented their work at our research symposium in front of students and faculty. I hope that the time spent at CCM will make an impact in their future career,” said Heider.

“I want to thank NHS PTSA President Anastasios Melisaris and NHS science teacher Stewart Dotts for bringing us two of their brightest students. We look forward to continuing the successful program with Newark High School next summer.”

Creating opportunities

In a letter to UD President Patrick Harker, Melisaris praised the UD professors involved, including Heider, Shridhar Yarlagadda, assistant director of CCM, and George Hadjipanayis, Richard B. Murray Professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, for creating internship opportunities for NHS science students.

Melisaris recognized Mark Stitz, a researcher at UD Energy Institute, and Dion Vlachos, Elizabeth Inez Kelley Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and director of the Center for Catalytic Science and Technology, for establishing a comprehensive outreach program called the ChemE “Young Fellows Program.”

The program sparked the creation of a new science club at NHS called the NHS Science Scholars Club, led by Dotts. Working with Stitz and Vlachos, Dotts helps club members attend chemical engineering lectures on campus about current research in catalysis, biofuels, alternate energy sources and other topics, exposing students to advanced laboratory equipment and research practices through site tours and interaction with UD graduate and doctoral students. Melisaris also acknowledged Eric Furst, associate professor in chemical engineering, who plans to support NHS student internships next summer.

Mentoring future scientists

Ongoing mentoring between UD researchers and NHS science students is a win-win situation that fosters the development of clear career pathways in engineering and science while students are still in high school, says Melisaris. It also helps students comfortably engage with advanced technology projects and prepares them to become effective college students in the future.

“NHS is just few yards away from UD, and out of the 1,600 currently enrolled students we have a few hundred highly motivated students who are top-notch performers. Given suitable opportunities by UD faculty, they can learn quickly and become major contributors to UD programs. Such a dynamic partnership (UD-NHS) in science and engineering will further support the economic development of our region and support our nation to maintain a sustainable competitive advantage on a global basis,” said Melisaris.

Harker also applauded the collaborative initiative saying, “Fantastic work. Thanks to you all for advancing UD's outreach mission in such a compelling way. This is an exciting partnership.”

Other engineering outreach

Kathleen Werrell, assistant dean for pre-college and special programs in the College of Engineering, said these efforts complement a full range of outreach programs already in place within the department. Some recent events aimed at sparking interest in engineering and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers include:

Family Friday event -- Middle-schoolers and their parents learned how graphing calculators are used to examine real-life engineering scenarios, such as roof collapse in extreme weather, during the Family Friday event “Can a Graphing Calculator Hold Up a Roof.” Participants toured the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering laboratories and met and talked with UD engineering students.

PlastiVan visit -- Students from Avon Grove High School in West Grove, Pa., learned about plastics during a session with PlastiVan, a special program from the Society of Plastics Industry that helps excite middle and high school students about engineering opportunities. The session was offered as part of the Materials in Art 2010 Symposium organized by the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Engineering 101 -- This day-long event, coordinated by Alpha Omega Epsilon and the Society of Women Engineers, promoted STEM careers among female high school students through hands-on engineering activities, a campus tour, question and answer sessions with current female engineering students and various lab demonstrations.

Article by Karen B. Roberts
Photos by Evan Krape, Kathy Atkinson and Ambre Alexander