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Annual BUILDERS Academy continues to fuel creativity, STEM interests among high school students

August 20, 2019

2019 BUILDERS Academy participants and program administrators.
2019 BUILDERS Academy participants and program administrators.

Contact: Brittney Dabney, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

BUILDERS Academy students work on problem solving prototypes
BUILDERS Academy students work on problem solving prototypes.

High school students and teachers from Macon County Schools, Montgomery Public Schools and Phenix City Schools spent part of their summer pouring out their creativity and newly acquired STEM knowledge during Tuskegee University’s annual BUILDERS Academy. Through this year’s academy, nearly 60 students furthered their understanding of technology concepts while honing other skills like critical thinking, collaboration and communication.

The program, which is free to participating students, aims to increase diversity in STEM fields. Now in its third year, the academy is a continuing partnership between Tuskegee and Oakland University in Michigan, and is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

From June 10-28, students worked in teams researching, designing, building and testing prototypes applying STEM principles while attempting to solve real-world needs. Alternate forms of energy, water purification units, and portable shelters for the homeless were just some of the projects students conceptualized.

Led by Dr. Mohammed Qazi, a professor in the Department of Mathematics who serves as the principal investigator and director of the BUILDERS Program, noted that the academy offers its students more individualized STEM instruction and engagement.

“Our BUILDERS Academy allows students to work on problems of a global interest and about which they are passionate. Because of that, they are more interested in finding a solution,” Qazi explained. “Throughout the process, they learn and apply the science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts needed to make their products work, as opposed to having a teacher teach them these concepts.”

The capstone of the three-week summer enrichment program for students is turning those concepts into reality. That includes the Logan Hall basketball court becoming a giant “makerspace,” where the students designed and built prototypes that could potentially address problems in communities around the world. Working alongside the participating students were nine high school students who served as peer-mentors — each of whom were themselves past BUILDERS students. The mentors played a vital role helping students develop project-based and inquiry-based strategies, sharing high-tech insights, and explaining science and engineering concepts.

The BUILDERS Academy’s efforts are not exclusive to the summer months. During the academic school year, students will continue working in after-school settings to improve their prototypes. Ultimately, they will present their prototypes during the academy’s annual spring showcase open house.

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