Permanent exhibit inspires future engineers

Author: Linda Thomas Terhune
The next time you walk through the lobby of Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering, don’t be surprised if you bump into a swarm of middle school students.

The young visitors most likely will be crowded around the new “Because Dreams Need Doing” exhibit, an interactive display unveiled in February during National Engineers Week. The multimedia exhibit, which takes up a full wall, is designed to spark interest in engineering among elementary and middle school children, as well as provide new views of engineering for alumni and engineering professionals.

The 2,000-square-foot exhibit, funded by a $1 million grant from the John Deere Foundation, uses state-of-the-art media technology to emphasize the role of engineering in addressing society’s challenges. The installation includes a number of stations in which participants have a chance to learn about and interact with four areas of engineering: health, energy, environment and space. It includes special effects, video, audio and text.

“With our focus on innovation, we are especially pleased that this display will tell young people about the important role of engineering in our world and encourage them to consider exciting careers in the engineering field,” says John Bustle, vice president of the John Deere Foundation.

The name, “Because Dreams Need Doing,” is taken from a National Academy of Engineering study on communicating more effectively about engineering.

“With this exhibit, we will convey the message that engineers make a difference in the world,” says Leah Jamieson, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering. “We hope to join the National Academy in inspiring young people to think of engineering as a career where they can realize their dreams.”

During spring semester, more than 250 students from local and regional schools toured the exhibit. Parker Alexander, a fifth-grader at Russiaville’s Western Intermediate School, was among a group of 60 students who passed through in May. He was particularly taken with the section that addresses energy and features wind turbines. Students use a hand crank to generate their own “wind” and see the results registered on a wattage meter. The physical involvement is especially attractive to active young boys and girls.

“It’s really cool,” Alexander said. “When you do this (as he cranked furiously on the handle) it says you are at 30 watts. It shows me that if you had winds all over the world, you could produce energy and reduce global warming.”

Teacher Randy Messner, who outside of the classroom leads his school’s rocket club, was equally engaged with the exhibit, discussing with a group of students the section on how the human heart pumps.

“Even if the students don’t completely remember every detail of the exhibit, they will internalize the information. Later on, when they hear about the subject, it will be easier for them to make connections to engineering,” he said.

Dan Somerville, the college’s P-12 outreach coordinator, couldn’t be happier about the exhibit’s impact. “It’s so great to see those light bulbs go off,” he said.