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A student and teacher work with a robotic arm

ETCS outreach fills the pipeline of future STEM professionals

On-campus opportunities for exploration offered annually by the College of Engineering, Technology, and Computer Science at Purdue University Fort Wayne are a significant piece of a year-round effort to raise awareness of—and greater interest in—majors and careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The first in a series of five STEM camps hosted this summer by ETCS kicked off June 13.

During June and July, around 80 students in grades 2–12 are participating in camps highlighting themes such as engineering robotics, industrial technology, the future girls of STEM, explorations for middle schoolers, and adventures in computer technology. The size of each camp varies from anywhere between six students to as many as 24. The smaller groups allow participating ETCS faculty and staff, plus multiple industry leaders who have been invited to make special appearances as presenters, to provide more personalized attention in support of the students’ growth and understanding of their chosen subject.

“Our objective is to provide educational opportunities that engage, challenge, and build self-confidence through hands-on activities fostering awareness and interest in STEM subjects,” says Nicholas Gray, director of outreach programs, College of Engineering, Technology, and Computer Science. “Working with our professors helps form a connection with students by engaging them and encouraging them to continue their education.”

For some campers, that early exposure eventually leads them back to Purdue Fort Wayne to pursue a college degree. Gray says that scenario is quite common, and one of the best aspects of his job. It’s also what’s kept him part of the PFW university community as a student and employee for almost 25 years, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees along the way.

Gray began an eight-year stint as director of the university’s TRIO Upward Bound programs in 2012, and has spent the last six months in his new role with ETCS. The one-time middle school social studies teacher and assistant principal continues to enjoy those chances to venture back into the classroom as a guest speaker.

“Being an educator, I’ve always enjoyed working with students,” Gray says. “I love to learn, and in turn, help students develop their own passion for learning. Instead of being in a classroom, I now get to collaborate with professors, K–12 officials, and industry leaders to create and provide impactful STEM programming for students all over the region.”

With essential support from ETCS outreach programs team members Janet North and Becky Notestine, Gray and other key stakeholders help the college host various events on campus during the school year. That list of events includes spirited regional and state competitions for high school bridge builders, middle school students who design and construct cities of the future to solve sustainability issues, and competitors between the ages of 9 and 14 who take part in a popular robotics tournament offered through the  FIRST® LEGO® League. Purdue Fort Wayne has been part of most of these educational initiatives for decades.

“These efforts are vital to the growth of our programs within ETCS,” Gray adds. “We are introducing students to STEM majors and careers they may have never been exposed to. By providing diverse opportunities to students, our goal is to make them feel welcomed at PFW as prospective students who we hope will consider staying and working in northeast Indiana.”

Gray describes the transition from being a young student to an adult working in a STEM field to be a long process, but a vital one to sustain the university and our regional workforce.

Learn more about what ETCS at Purdue Fort Wayne has to offer, including its School of Polytechnic and departments of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Organizational Leadership, by visiting its new website.