New green energy course inspires high school seniors from across the country

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15 students from across the country received certificates for completing the E2@MIT energy course this summer.

This summer, 15 rising high school seniors from across the country learned about renewable energy as part of a new course offered through Engineering Experience at MIT (E2@MIT), a one-week science and engineering enrichment program offered by the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs. The course taught students the benefits and drawbacks of four different types of renewable energy – geothermal, wind, hydroelectric and solar power – and culminated in student presentations on wind farms that they modeled using advanced software.

Student Samuel Zinga of Loganville, Georgia, uses a model to demonstrate how wind turbines generate energy.

Student Samuel Zinga of Loganville, Georgia, uses a model to demonstrate how wind turbines generate energy.

The course was made possible by Enel Green Power North America (EGP-NA), which invested in the program as part of its efforts to fortify the future of the economy, industry, and company though engagement with younger generations. More than a dozen EGP-NA employees participated, including Enel Green Power CEO and General Manager Francesco Venturini. The EGP-NA employees taught students about various renewable energy technologies and the basics of the industry’s business.

Zack Irons, wind project design and evaluation manager at EGP-NA, led the students through wind farm design projects, spending hours each day working with them and guiding them through the full design process using real-world data and software. After working closely with the students, he was inspired by their intellect and work ethic.

“These individuals were easily some of the sharpest and most intuitive minds I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” Irons said. “Their ability to grasp new concepts, retain enormous amounts of information, and apply that information using brand new tools was beyond impressive – it was inspiring.”

Evelyn Darden from Naperville, Illinois, was interested in the environment before she arrived on the MIT campus, and she developed an even stronger affinity for renewable energy during the E2@MIT course. Through observing course instructor Vera Steinmann’s lab work on photovoltaic cells, Darden affirmed her desire to pursue scientific research in the future.

“I wanted to go into medicine, so I was on the fence about going into research,” said Darden. “When I talked to Vera, it was really reassuring to know that I could go into research during my undergrad.” Since her involvement in E2@MIT and the green energy course, Darden hopes to learn more renewable energy and the implementation of new green technology. “I never knew there were so many different ways to use renewable energy. It’s something that I’d like to research one day.”

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CEO and General Manager Francesco Venturini was one of many Enel Green Power representatives who attended the E2@MIT Final Symposum on August 9.

At Darden’s age, Steinmann held a similar idea about the importance of green energy in everyday life. “I grew up being very aware of the environment and renewable energy; my family has solar panels on their roof,” said Steinmann. “Sometimes I get the impression that people aren’t aware where power comes from, and people use it wastefully.”

Steinmann hoped that by teaching E2@MIT students about photovoltaic cells and other sources of green power, she could inspire them to bring that knowledge back to their communities and make green power more widely embraced.

“I think renewable energy is important because our other sources of energy are limited, and we can’t rely on coal, gas and oil forever,” said Steinmann. “Burning oil harms our environment, and if we want to do something good for the environment, we should focus on renewable.”

—Sydney Lester

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Dreams took flight during MITES for NASA technologist

Dr. Aprille Ericcson, a 1980 alumnae of MITES, is Deputy to the Chief Technologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Dr. Aprille Ericcson, a 1980 alumna of MITES, is Deputy to the Chief Technologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Seventeen-year-old Aprille Ericsson strapped into the flight simulator at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts, while taking part in MIT’s Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) in 1980 during the summer before her senior year. A talented student from Brooklyn expecting to pursue a law degree, this was her closest experience to piloting an aircraft. An affinity for aerospace was born when she stepped out of the simulator and saw her score –103, just three points from perfect. “That was my first real interest in aeronautics and astronautics,” she says. Since taking part in MITES, Ericsson has held several positions in the aerospace industry, including her current job as Deputy to the Chief Technologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Now, she works to identify gaps in technology and enable researchers to fulfill those future technological needs.

Ericsson’s high school algebra teacher, also an MIT alum, recommended the MITES program, formerly UNITE, which she later attended. The program today runs for six weeks in June and July and gives engineering and science-inclined students the chance to experience life and college-level courses at MIT during the summer between their junior and senior years. While on campus, MITES students create meaningful networks of friends and staff, and most MITES alumni go on to study science and engineering at top universities. Ericsson pursued her undergraduate degree at MIT and her graduate study at Howard, where she became the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at the university.

During MITES, Ericsson learned about her growing desire to help people and found fellow students who shared her excitement for learning. The combination of intrinsically motivated students and encouraging instructors and teaching assistants gave her confidence to enter the aerospace field. “The people supporting the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs are really bright people I still admire,” says Ericsson.

MITES also taught Ericsson how to handle crises. During a bridge building competition, she injured her finger while feverishly trying to finish the project. “I learned to work under duress, in short periods of time. I learned to accomplish things and put my mind to it,” says Ericsson. Despite her injury, she was able to return and finish her bridge for the competition. The ability to thrive under strict time constraints and stressful situations was a critical skill she developed at MITES. Under the inspiration of MITES, Ericsson attended MIT a year later.

In July 1980 during MITES, Ericcson learned to work in high pressure scenarios during a bridge building competition.

In July 1980 during MITES, Ericcson learned to work in high pressure scenarios during a bridge building competition.

After MITES and MIT, Ericsson entered the workforce and found a series of fulfilling positions. “I find it particularly enticing to improve people’s lives and make them easier,” says Ericsson. “The projects that I work on have to be impactful in our communities. They have to be positive and not destructive.” Instead of working on missile defense, Ericsson attended graduate school at Howard University, where she developed control algorithms for applications like the International Space Station. While a Ph.D. intern, she joined the ranks of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, creating methods of attitude control simulation and software testing.

Along with creating useful technologies that benefit people on a larger scale, Ericsson enjoys the thrill of solving complex problems. “When you’re trying to obtain a goal, you don’t know how many steps you’ll need to take,” says Ericsson. “Spending an entire lifetime on helping to solve questions and problems is really cool.”

Ericsson has also devoted herself to empowering young women and minorities interested in STEM careers. She has done this though active membership in the NASA GSFC Speakers Bureau as a Mentor and University Professor, and previously as an aerospace teacher for students at Howard University Public Charter Middle School of Math & Science.

Ericsson advises aspiring scientists and engineers to maintain high hopes for the future and seek out opportunities with patience and perseverance. “The prizes of life are at the end of each journey,” she says. “Have lofty goals, believe in them and you will achieve them. You will always get there, but you will achieve a lot more than you thought you would.”

Speakers at middle school program orientation overcame barriers to study science and engineering

Mentor and mentee and dad attend the 2014 STEM Mentoring Program Orientation on October 18.

Mentor Kevin Smith, a senior studying computer engineering at Boston University, middle school mentee Kevin Matos, a sixth grader from Lawrence, Massachusetts, and his father Pedro Matos attend the 2014 STEM Mentoring Program Orientation on October 18 (photo by Meredith Lawrence).

Public middle school students from Boston, Cambridge and Lawrence, their families, and undergraduate mentors attended orientation for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Mentoring Program at MIT on October 18. As part of the orientation, three keynote speakers from MIT and Harvard shared experiences that led them to study and seek careers in science and engineering.

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Danielle Olson (photo by Greg Perko)

Mentors changing minds

Danielle Olson, a recent graduate of MIT in computer science and engineering, gave the first talk. She said that despite her love of science growing up, she couldn’t picture herself as a scientist because of prevailing gender stereotypes. When she was introduced to a mentor through a program offered by her high school, the picture she had of a scientist suddenly changed. “My [original] idea of a scientist was not an outgoing, creative, black female; my idea of a scientist was Bill Nye,” said Olson. “My mentor looked nothing like my idea of a scientist. It was because of this that I changed my major from journalism to science.”

After rejecting preconceived ideas about the kind of career she could have, something different called to Olson. She urged the middle school students in the audience to take a closer look at what their futures could look like if they reject stereotypes and obstacles. Olson left the students with one assignment: “I challenge you to use what you have to do what you can. The master has failed more times than the novice has even tried.”

David Boone

David Boone (photo by Greg Perko)

Staying hungry

The next speaker at the orientation was David Boone, a Harvard junior who founded his university’s Undergraduate Robotics Club and completed an internship at Microsoft. Like Olson, it never occurred to Boone to study science and engineering as a high school student despite having a deep interest in those fields. Instead, he expected to pursue law or medicine. “Growing up smart in Cleveland, you either become a doctor or a lawyer,” said Boone. “No one ever thought to tell me, David you’re smart, why don’t you become an engineer?”

Feeling a lack of challenge at his high school, he applied and was accepted to the Minority Introduction to Science and Engineering (MITES) program at MIT. Boone’s experience during MITES changed his perception of success and opened him up to a new way of thinking about his own future. “For the first time, I was surrounded by students just as excited about engineering as me with very similar backgrounds.”

Now, Boone lives his life in a way that reflects his ideals and allows him to be a role model for his family. “My siblings look up at me for inspiration,” he said. “I can’t get too content, I have to stay hungry.”

Mareena Robinson-Snowden (photo by Greg Perko)

Mareena Robinson-Snowden (photo by Greg Perko)

Ignoring fear

Mareena Robinson-Snowden was the last to speak, sharing the story of her career path, which took several turns and detours prior to her current position as a doctoral candidate in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT. She talked about the importance of not letting fear prevent students from reaching their goals. In high school, Robinson-Snowden feared that she wasn’t capable of understanding math concepts like her peers. “My fear was paralyzing,” she said. “It kept me from learning. I had established a belief about myself, and once you establish that belief, your mind looks for evidence to color that belief.”

Robinson-Snowden stressed that students passionate about science and engineering should not become disheartened about the subjects they study, and that they should never give up on challenges because of fear. Today, she has overcome her own fears and serves as co-president of the Academy of Courageous Minority Engineers.

STEM Program Academic Advisor Catherine Park closed the orientation by thanking the speakers, middle school students, families and mentors, and provided some context on why the program is important. “Middle school can be tough sometimes, and the transition to high school can be even tougher,” said Park, “That’s why we match our students with people who went through it all in the not so distant past.”

—Sydney Lester

Lunch with SanDisk CEO celebrates OEOP alumni

Leaders from the SanDisk Corporation joined MIT students and staff on September 19 at the Boston Marriott Cambridge for a lunch that acknowledged undergraduates who have benefitted from SanDisk-supported high school programs and undergraduate scholarships.

“MIT is a special place for SanDisk,” said SanDisk CEO Sanjay Mehrotra, who praised the Institute’s research, international programs and focus on interdisciplinary education. “MIT is among the very best when it comes to the technology and engineering engagement that it provides to students.”

Part of the lunch celebrated SanDisk’s support of MIT’s STEM education outreach at the high school level. Over the past two years, SanDisk has sponsored dozens of students in MIT engineering enrichment programs for rising high school seniors from across the country. Those programs – Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES), Engineering Experience at MIT (E2@MIT) and MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC) – primarily serve students from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds.

The lunch also highlighted SanDisk’s support of MIT at the undergraduate and graduate levels. As part of the SanDisk Scholars Program, the company has sponsored scholarships for undergraduate students in each grade level for the past three years. SanDisk also partners with the VI-A M.Eng. Thesis Program – a five-year program in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science that matches students with industry internships and awards them bachelor’s and master’s degrees – as well as the Leaders for Global Operations program – a dual degree program in engineering and management innovation run by the School of Engineering and the Sloan School of Management.

The SanDisk executive team members at the lunch – five of whom are MIT alumni – discussed other ways the company may look to support MIT’s preparation of engineering leaders in the future. SanDisk Senior Vice President Manish Bhatia ’93, SM ’99, MBA ’99 said the company is looking into sponsoring undergraduate research.

“One of the best things about MIT is that there’s no way for you to get an engineering degree here without doing research,” Bhatia said. “It’s a fundamental part of being an engineer in the real world, and it’s one of the things that separate MIT engineers.”

During the lunch, MIT students and leadership from SanDisk had an opportunity to learn about each other’s work. “Hearing about what each one of you is doing is just mind-boggling,” Mehrotra said. “We are so proud to be sponsoring the SanDisk Scholars as well as the MITES, E2@MIT and MOSTEC programs.”

Many SanDisk leaders spoke before the full group, covering topics ranging from advances in flash memory technology, to career opportunities at SanDisk, to the importance of networking.

“You are the future leaders,” said James Goldsberry, Senior Director of Engineering for SanDisk at the company’s new location in Marlborough, Massachusetts. “Carry the network you have here throughout your whole life, because these will be the future leaders of your sister companies. You’re going to lean on them as you proceed in your career.”

An outpouring of thanks concluded the event. “Programs like ours wouldn’t happen without sponsors and supporters like SanDisk,” said Shawna Young, executive director of the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs. “SanDisk is making a tremendous impact on the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

Words by Nick Holden, photos by Pierce Harman

This story was also published on MIT News.

The thrill of the ride

When he was seven years old, Brandon Holloway first gazed up at Apollo’s Chariot — the tallest, fastest roller coaster at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va. “It was so huge you could see it from the highway,” he says. “When I finally got the courage to ride it, it was the middle of the night — pitch black — and I went by myself. The rest of my family was deathly afraid.”

Holloway strapped in, ascended the signature 170-foot chain lift hill, and took the plunge. “The drop went on forever. I was screaming all the way down,” he says. “I remember explicitly thinking afterward, ‘I want to design rides like this.’”

As a graduating senior in mechanical engineering, Holloway is on his way to a career in ride design. Although his track from rural Virginia to MIT featured a number of unexpected dips and turns, he held on and recently made the stop on Killian Court to pick up his diploma.

Brandon Holloway was inspired by a roller coaster and had his passions fueled by MITES.

Brandon Holloway was inspired by a roller coaster and had his passions fueled by MITES.

Rural roots

Holloway grew up in Smithfield, a town of 8,000 residents, about 70 miles southeast of Richmond. Graduates of Smithfield High School tend not to stray far from home. “A lot of the kids don’t leave the state for college — if they do go to college. There’s a cotton field across from my high school,” he says. “Honestly, MIT wasn’t even on my radar.”

Holloway had other plans. He exhausted the Advanced Placement and honors math and science courses at his high school and sought additional online resources to prepare for a future beyond Smithfield. During his junior year, his guidance counselor told him about MIT’s Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) Program — a six-week residential, academic enrichment experience that aims to engage highly talented students from traditionally underserved or underrepresented populations. Holloway applied, was accepted, and travelled to Boston in June 2009 for his first visit to the MIT campus.

“It kicked my butt”

Arriving in Boston, Holloway experienced his first extended stay in a major city — and was reminded of what had brought him there. “Riding the subway for the first time was the coolest experience,” he says. “I was thinking, ‘How does this work? How is it going so fast? How does it not go off the track?’”

Through his classes in the MITES Program, Holloway experienced something else he hadn’t in Virginia: failure. “It kicked my butt,” he says. “In high school, I was getting As left and right; I didn’t even have to try. At MITES, you get that first grade back, and it’s a shock to your whole system.”

Holloway found support with his peers. Through long days and late-night study sessions, he and his classmates formed a family, he says. The experience made him more comfortable with the idea of studying at a world-class institution. “It got my brain into the ‘MIT gear,’” he says. Along with academic support, Holloway’s peers also gave him a new cultural perspective. “In Smithfield, you’re black or you’re white,” he says. “When you come to MITES, not only are you not black or white, you’re African American, or African, or Spanish, or Portuguese — or anything under the rainbow. Everybody has their culture, and everybody’s so proud of that culture.”

Coursework and connections

After MITES, Holloway returned home inspired to aim higher. He applied to MIT early action and matriculated in fall 2010. He thrived in courses with direct connections to his passion for ride design. “When you start taking the core classes like 2.001 (Mechanics and Materials) and 2.007 (Design and Manufacturing), that’s when you start making cool stuff and learning awesome skills — like working with SolidWorks and turning a drawing into a physical product,” he says.

Outside the classroom, Holloway connected with MIT alum Matt DuPlessie ’99 to land an internship at 5 Wits Productions, a company that designs adventure experiences and interactive exhibits for museums, theme parks, and theaters. He also leveraged the Infinite Connection to meet other alumni who work for theme parks and ride builders. With his connections, internship experience, and mechanical engineering degree, Holloway plans to enter the industry soon after graduation.

But Holloway has one debt to settle first. This summer, he returned to MITES as head teaching assistant. While his students grapple with the program’s academic rigor, he plans to help them keep everything in perspective and focus on their goals. “A lot of times people can get bogged down in the classwork and the grading,” he says. “Students need to remember that they’re working toward their passions.” Currently, Holloway is program assistant for national programs for the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs.

—Nick Holden

This story was also published on MIT News.

STEM Program brings local middle school students to MIT for science and engineering enrichment

From July 7 through August 9, 86 students who attend public middle schools in Boston, Cambridge and Lawrence, Mass., participated in science and engineering enrichment at MIT through the five-week Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Summer Institute, a component of the STEM Program offered by the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP).

Sixteen instructors, all of whom are undergraduates, taught the students in eight subject areas. Rising sixth graders studied biology and algebra, rising seventh graders studied chemistry and physics, rising eighth graders studied probability and statistics and engineering design, and rising ninth graders studied pre-calculus and robotics. The instructors worked closely with expert mentors to prepare their curricula, and academic advisors provided additional student and instructional support.

A primary goal of the program – which is offered free of charge due to generous support from individuals, foundations, corporations and MIT – is to empower local students with the skills and confidence needed for future success in technical careers.

Probability and Statistics Instructor Mia Bernardino, a civil engineering major at Seattle University, values the STEM Program’s focus on students from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds. “I really want to inspire minority students to work in the STEM field,” she says. “There are not many women in the civil engineering field, or engineering in general. I want to be an example for other young women, to show that they can be like me one day and teach others.”

Words by Sydney Lester and Nick Holden, photos by Meredith Lawrence

39th MITES class welcomed to MIT

The MITES class of 2014 met in Simmons Hall for a welcome dinner.

The MITES class of 2014 met in Simmons Hall for a welcome dinner.

On June 13, 72 rising high school seniors from across the country joined instructional staff and administration at MIT’s Simmons Hall for the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) Welcome Dinner. It marked the beginning of the 39th session of MITES, the longest-running offering of the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs.

Yonatan Tekleab, summer program coordinator for MITES, greeted the students and charged them with one task: to change the world. “Changing the world can mean something different for everyone,” he said, while recounting his own academic and career path. He also commented on the social experience of the MITES program. “The bonds you create with one another will be everlasting,” he said.

Through the intensive MITES curriculum, each student will complete courses in calculus, physics, life science and humanities, along with one hands-on engineering elective course. At the welcome dinner, Kathryn Shroyer of the MIT Sea Grant College Program previewed the new Underwater Robotics course, which joins MITES after a successful pilot course in OEOP’s one-week program, Engineering Experience at MIT (E2@MIT), last year.

After dinner, students learned about policies surrounding housing, safety and fitness and recreation. Instructors and teaching assistants introduced themselves and the topics they planned to cover, and Brandon Holloway, head teaching assistant and MITES ’09 alum, revealed this year’s class theme: crafting the pillars of innovation.

MITES Faculty Director and MIT Professor Cardinal Warde stressed the value of good citizenship, striving for excellence and stepping up to take challenges. He reminded students that “someone gave money to give you the chance to be here. Show appreciation. We want you to try really hard.”

The level of excitement in the hall was high among instructors, coordinators, teaching assistants and especially the students. Ahmed Bosier, from Detroit, MI, said he’s excited to collaborate with like-minded people and learn more about engineering.

Abigail Arnold from Des Moines, WA said that aside from the great opportunity of being at a place like MIT, she’s most looking forward to meeting her peers. “We’re already planning a movie night,” she said.

In the closing remarks, Shawna Young, executive director of OEOP, reinforced that students will work harder than they have before, but that the experience will be worth it. “Take in every moment,” she said.  “You won’t get it back, but it’s okay, because you have it now.”

—Alexandra Koktsidis