Google Rise Award

Funding expands EPICS High's impact
Since its creation in 2006, the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) High program has made a difference in local communities across the country.

This year, it gained recognition from Google as part of the company's effort to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM ) education.

EPICS High was named one of 30 programs from 18 countries around the world to receive the Google RISE Award. RISE, or Roots in Science and Engineering, supports initiatives in STEM and computer science for primary and secondary students.

"It's significant to have Google's support," says William Oakes, director of EPICS . "This will open new doors for EPICS High."

The program builds on the success of EPICS , which provides thousands of undergraduates opportunities to design projects with local impact in the United States and abroad. EPICS High extends the outreach to students in 56 high schools nationwide, connecting engineering and computing design with community needs.

EPICS High attracts students to engineering by helping them understand how STEM developments can impact their day-to-day lives. This approach differs from other programs by using service learning and community outreach as a way to introduce students to concepts of engineering.

"We show students and their families how engineering can make their lives better," Oakes says. "When you look at the research about how to increase interest in engineering and computing, it shows that we need to demonstrate how engineering matters and how it connects with people."

As students progress through the EPICS High curriculum, they see how engineering makes a difference in their communities. The program attracts a diverse population to engineering, and 44 percent of EPICS High students are female. Following participation in the program, many students are more interested in engineering as a career.

The boost in student interest created by EPICS High supports the College of Engineering's strategic growth initiatives and the national call to address America's engineering shortage by graduating 10,000 additional engineers per year.

In 2012, the Martinson Family Foundation pledged $240,000 over three years for online training and nationwide curricula, bringing EPICS High closer to its ultimate goal of self-sufficiency.

Meanwhile, the Google RISE Award will expand EPICS High's impact and fund new programs this fall in 10 middle and high schools in the San Jose, Calif. area.

The expansion builds on the EPICS High strategy for national growth, centering on regional hubs to provide localized support for teachers and reduce the cost of implementation.

Regional hubs are already in place in Illinois and Arizona. In Chicago, nine high schools implement EPICS High curriculum, supported by corporate partner Motorola Solutions.

Chicago teacher Dan Mostyn has seen the program's success with his students. Mostyn teaches at George Westinghouse College Prep, a public school that opened in 2009 after a school closure and redesign. As Westinghouse grows and adds classes to its schedule, Mostyn thinks the EPICS High curriculum is an excellent fit with the school's addition of a senior engineering class.

He says the program gave his students "a better understanding of what it means to serve and why it's important. It helped them understand service isn't a requirement but something that you do to help other people."

This school year, his students worked on 12 EPICS High projects, including one for a Westinghouse student with special needs who is unable to speak. Mostyn's students designed a machine that speaks on her behalf. With each press of a button, the device communicates through sounds and phrases.

"The students are dedicated to the project and have a personal connection to the student," Mostyn says.

The seniors demonstrated their commitment by returning to campus this spring after classes were completed to ensure that the device works properly.

For Westinghouse students, engineering is no longer just about textbook learning. It's about making a difference in the world.

The Google RISE Award will multiply the effects of EPICS High and give more high school students the chance to experience engineering's potential for change.

To support this program, please make check payable to the Purdue Foundation and designate to the "EPICS High." Mail to the Purdue Foundation, 403 W. Wood St., West Lafayette, IN 47907-2007.