Inspiring Future Anteater Engineers

Webster Elementary School children visit UC Irvine's Samueli School of Engineering for a first hand look at some rolling robots. May 31, 2016 - More than 80 third graders reveled in robots last Wednesday morning on Engineering Gateway Plaza, where Samueli School students were demonstrating their custom-built automatons as part of the requirement for Professor David Reinkensmeyer’s mechanical engineering course.

With support from the Dean’s Office, Reinkensmeyer hosted the [Long Beach] Webster Elementary School children for a half-day field trip at UC Irvine’s engineering school. Accompanied by four teachers and half a dozen parent chaperones, the third graders traveled by bus to UCI, went on a walking tour of the campus, then listened to a 30-minute lecture about robots from Reinkensmeyer. Afterward they were able to see firsthand what engineering students do as they learned about and observed the real thing from Anteater Engineers.

“This is just awesome,” said Diana Stewart, one of the teachers from Webster, a school with a high percentage of children from low-income families. “I can talk about it, we can open a book, but there is no greater way to inspire these kids in science and engineering than to expose them to the real thing. It’s a great appetizer for the STEM activities they’ll participate in later, during 5th grade.”

The students broke into groups and rotated through four stations. They built tiny strider robots that travelled down an aluminum foil battery-charged track. They played with the MusicGlove and a robotic arm that helps stroke patients recover movement in the Biorobotics lab. They visited the iMove lab in Calit2 where they learned about spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation with lever-actuated resonance assistance. And, they imagined their own robot on paper with the help of engineering students.

“It was delightful to see them interacting with UCI undergraduate and graduate students, and building and testing their own robots,” said Reinkensmeyer. “I was impressed with the third graders, in terms of how engaged and curious they were.  I was also pleased by the turnout of UCI student volunteers who were enthusiastically willing to serve the community in this way.”

Sumner Norman, UCI engineering graduate student, said that an experience just like this inspired him to be an engineer. The Utah native is the first in his family to attend college. At 10 years old, he went on a field trip to Boeing, where he saw an engineer using computer-aided design (CAD) to design an aircraft part. “I was so impressed that he could create something in his mind and then design it on the computer like that.”

The kids were treated to sack lunches in Aldrich Park before they boarded their buses and headed back to Long Beach. When asked about their experience, one group of boys said, “Cool!”

-Lori Brandt



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