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HFES Bulletin

January 2011
Volume 54, Number 1


CHAAT Brings Science and Technology to Grade-School Girls

by Thomas Z. Strybel

During the summer of 2010, two programs enabled fifth- and eighth-grade girls to explore possible careers in the fields of science and technology. In the first, 10 high-achieving eighth-grade girls from the Long Beach School District in California participated in a one-week workshop on human factors and other engineering disciplines. In the second, 30 fifth-grade girls participated in a series of educational forums at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The two programs were made possible through the establishment of CHAAT-the Center for Human Factors in Advanced Aeronautics Technologies as well as interdisciplinary collaborations between the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Engineering at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). Directed by HFES member Thomas Strybel, CHAAT is researching the impact that human factors have on pilots and air traffic controllers in the Next Generation Air Transportation System.

In 2009, CHAAT was designated as a NASA University Research Center with a five-year award from the NASA Education Office, one of only a dozen university research centers nationwide. NASA University Research Centers are designed to achieve a broad-based, competitive aerospace research capability among minority institutions in the United States. The purpose of these centers is to foster new aerospace science and technology concepts, expand the nation's base for aerospace research, and increase the participation of socially and economically disadvantaged students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.

According to a recent National Academy of Sciences report, the number of U.S.-trained STEM professionals will be insufficient to meet the nation's future workforce needs in these areas. Moreover, the current number of students who are enrolled in a STEM field of study is not representative of the diversity in the nation's racial and ethnic populations. As a result of this disturbing finding, CHAAT funded the "Engineering Girls Internship," and NASA designed the "NASA Learning Experience" program to encourage students-especially minorities-to pursue STEM fields of study.

Engineering Girls Internship
The "Engineering Girls Internship" program is designed to inspire girls to pursue careers in human factors, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Funded by CHAAT and directed by HFES member and CHAAT Co-Investigator Kim Vu, CHAAT Research Associate Panadda Marayong, and CHAAT Educational Partner Lily Gossage, the internship consisted of 10 eighth-grade girls who were selected from a pool of 150 applicants. All interns were academically advanced in mathematics and science and showed an interest in learning about engineering and technology. "This is the first STEM-based residential program for such young students. Many of those who applied had already completed Algebra I and II, which means they are two years ahead in math and are expected to complete calculus or AP calculus by the 12th grade," said Gossage, director of CSULB's College of Engineering Recruitment and Retention Center. "The average GPA of these girls was 3.83, and the average CST score was 438, which is well above the expected state proficiency level." The program was also exciting, Gossage added, because "overall in professional practice, less than 10% of engineers are women."

Students spent one week in a dormitory on the CSULB campus and interacted with human factors and engineering university professors, professional engineers, and engineering managers. The interns learned about the work done by professional engineers and scientists who deal with space exploration, air traffic safety, and scientific research. These topics were designed to expose the students to a broad range of engineering specialties and applications. For the human factors workshop, students learned about air traffic management and directed traffic in a simulated en route airspace sector while using air traffic controller headsets to communicate with CHAAT pseudo-pilots in an adjacent room. Other workshops introduced the students to robotics, acoustics, electrical engineering, and other disciplines, thanks to the voluntary efforts of faculty from CSULB's engineering and psychology departments.

Based on feedback obtained in exit surveys, the students were extremely positive about their experiences. When asked whether the internship had changed their interest in engineering careers, one student commented, "Yes, I am more interested in engineering, because I got to see how fun it is, and interesting." When asked about which engineering discipline interested them most, students' responses varied; some chose human factors, and others chose chemical engineering, aerospace engineering, computer science, or electrical engineering. Students were also asked what they learned about human factors. Comments such as "Human factors includes how people react and respond to certain products" indicated that their views of the human factors discipline had been changed.

NASA Learning Experience
The NASA Learning Experience program took place in July 2010 at the Kennedy Space Center. Created out of Minority University Research and Education Programs Small Projects opportunities, the program was part of NASA's "Summer of Innovation" initiative and the federal "Education to Innovate" campaign. Through these programs, universities can bring students to the Kennedy Space Center to involve them in educational forums, hands-on activities, and a tour of the center. Led by Principal Investigator Lily Gossage and Co-Investigator Panadda Marayong, 30 low-income, fifth-grade girls selected from Long Beach elementary schools visited the center with six teachers from their respective schools. The teachers acted as representatives for their schools in order to bring back and incorporate NASA curriculum into their classrooms.

Culmination of the Summer Activities
At the end of the summer, Vu and Gossage accompanied 50 of the grade-school participants to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, for the "Summer of Innovation" cumulating event. Two students from the CSULB programs were selected to communicate with in-flight F-18 pilots as part of mission control.

Since both the Engineering Girls Internship and the NASA Learning Experience are pilot programs, all student participants will be tracked to measure the impact of the programs on their future educational and career paths to determine if any of them pursue STEM education and aerospace careers.

To obtain more information about CHAAT outreach programs, go to CHAAT and click the link to "K-12 Outreach." Engineering industry companies and professionals and those from other organizations are welcomed to sponsor future programs.

Tom Strybel is principal investigator, director of CHAAT, and professor of psychology at California State University, Long Beach.

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