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NMSU students help Lynn Middle School students learn engineering principles

In what school and university officials hope is the beginning of a long partnership, 11 New Mexico State University engineering students spent part of their spring semester helping 6th, 7th and 8th grade students build projects and develop an interest in engineering.



(Left to right) Lynn Middle School students Salena Barks, Robert Young and Eric Asel watch a monitor while NMSU mechanical engineering senior Maureen McCamley adjusts a remote control. NMSU engineering students helped Lynn students build and operate engineering projects recently. Mechanical engineering assistant professor Gabe Garcia, who coordinated the effort, looks on from the rear. (NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan)

ork was part of an innovative program at Lynn Middle School in Las Cruces, that seeks to use engineering projects to motivate students to learn math and science, even writing and social studies, said Lynn's assistant principal Barbara Remondini.


Meeting the middle schoolers in their math classes, each of the 11 NMSU students spent at least two 45-minute class periods a week at Lynn between February and April. As a result, by April they had helped every one of Lynn's 655 students complete an engineering project. Sixth graders built model rockets; seventh graders built remote controlled model cars; eighth graders built remote controlled "Martian rovers."

At a science fair held April 30 and May 2, the middle schoolers got a chance to see how well their creations worked. With the NMSU students supervising, the sixth graders fired off their rockets on the school's football field; the seventh graders guided their cars through a maze on the school patio; and the eighth graders used video screens and remote control "joysticks" to guide their rovers around a simulated Martian landscape built by the NMSU students.

"We decided in the spring of 2000 that engineering would be a focus area at Lynn," said Assistant Principal Barbara Remondini. "We wanted something that could engage the kids in all the activities in the core curriculum and enhance their thinking skills."

The faculty was also looking for something that would include every student in the school, not just the academically inclined, she added.

"Engineering involves math and science, but it's also active. It's not just something kids sit and read about, it's interactive, hands on," said Lynn Principal Tomas Lucero.

To help plan and carry out the project, Lynn's faculty contacted Gabe Garcia, an NMSU mechanical engineering assistant professor who has been involved with NASA's Precollege Awards for Excellence in Math, Science, Engineering and Technology (PACE) program, which tries to interest disadvantaged and minority elementary and middle school students in science and technology.

"Dr. Garcia helped us write the curriculum. Along with Art Garcia of Rio Vista Engineering and Pat Moore of Bohannan Houston Inc., he sat down with our teachers one day in February and worked out what the kids needed to know and what we needed to teach them," said Remondini.

Garcia also recruited the 11 mechanical engineering students and paid for their time and materials through the PACE program.

The 11 were seniors Andrew Johns, Maureen McCamley, Wes Morgan, Felt Mounce, Aaron Ross, Joey Sanchez, Louis "Chip" Smith, Brian Stubbs and Henry Valenzuela, junior David Seigel and freshman Frank Fierro.

In the end, not only did the Lynn students become more excited about engineering, but the engineering students learned some unexpected skills, some said.

"I learned a lot of patience and tolerance," said Ross. "It also helps you communicate outside of the engineering world. It's hard enough talking to people your own age, but when you're talking to someone younger it's even harder."

"You're learning how to deal with the madness of a classroom," said Smith. "I went through it as a student, but being the teacher is rather interesting. Professionally, it shows we have the ability to learn in different environments and to teach, which correlates to management."

Remondini said Lynn's faculty plans to expand the program next year, adding drafting, technical writing and social studies units on the history of technology.

"We hope the partnership with NMSU will continue to grow," she added.