By Jennifer Kimrey
Houston Community College, in partnership with Houston-area independent school districts, hosted its fourth annual Chancellor’s Symposium Sept. 29 at NASA-Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston.
This symposium introduced middle- and high-school students to the roles of mechanical, electrical, civil and chemical engineers, technologists and technicians.
The symposium gave students the opportunity to explore these roles by having them take part in an educational simulation; students examined the infrastructure to support life and establish a colony on the Martian surface.
“We thought that would be a neat and exciting opportunity for the students,” said symposium chair Bart Sheinberg.
“One of the things we were thinking about was what would generate excitement in young boys and girls. Another thing we looked into was a venue that would generate that same excitement. We talked to Johnson Space Center, said, ‘Here’s what we want to do,’ and they said, ‘Sure.’ “
Since 2008, HCC has hosted symposia that focus on career fields that greatly impact Houston. Sheinberg and Mary Spangler, symposium chancellor, chose engineering as the symposium topic this year based on anecdotal and documented evidence of the need for engineers and technologists globally and in the greater Houston area.
“HCC, through its partnerships with secondary school districts across the city, universities, federal and state agencies and the business community, can provide both relevant and highly structured educational programs, on the academic and workforce side, to initiate the process for generating well-educated, trainable and motivated students who will become the next generation of engineers, technologists and technicians, working across the globe,” Sheinberg said.
The symposium hosted more than 1,400 middle and high school students, parents and school officials from six school districts served by HCC who are interested in the engineering field.
HCC and university student volunteers served as mentors and ambassadors during educational hands-on sessions.
“We had students doing activities that really emphasized the problem-solving nature of engineering,” Sheinberg said.
“We had them constructing rovers, looking at rocketry, exploring aeronautics, determining how to establish a colony and discovering how to grow food in a (Martian) colony.”
Sheinberg said the symposium focused on the parents as well, as they play a significant role in their child’s career exploration.
“For the parents, we had a panel come in to talk about opportunities on the career-side once (students) become engineers, technologists or technicians,” Sheinberg said.
“We wanted to expose them to how engineering and ally careers open doors in unexpected areas such as medicine and the sciences.”
Among some of the speakers were four former HCC students who had continued to undergraduate degrees in engineering. The former students discussed how HCC had prepared them for various career paths in the field.
Sheinberg said the goal of the symposium was to provide an opportunity for students to become enlightened about the nature of and a career in engineering and become excited at the prospects of entering the field one day.
“As students migrate from middle to high school, and from high school to college, many students, parents, teachers and counselors often have an incomplete concept of the integrative role engineers, technologists and technicians play and what those career pathways look like with respect to the academic background required to be successful in each of these areas,” Sheinberg said.