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High school students representing Macon County Schools and Montgomery Public Schools flexed their innovative muscles by applying STEM concepts during Tuskegee University’s annual BUILDERS Academy.
During this year’s academy, held on campus from June 11-29, 41 students received training in developing prototypes of products to solve problems commonly experienced by communities around the world. Students worked in collaborative “makerspace” environments that allowed them to research, design and develop from scratch innovative solutions such as water-purification systems, versatile tents for the homeless, a solar-powered stove and a bacteria-detection unit. Students were challenged to build prototypes that are portable, inexpensive and that can be made using readily available materials.
Dr. Mohammed Qazi, a professor in the university’s Department of Mathematics who leads this annual effort, noted that, in just 15 days, students went from a clean slate to a first partial prototype of products.
“Since the prototypes address a community problem that each group feels passionate about, there was a lot of determination and persistence by students to forge solutions,” Qazi said. “During the process, students gained valuable insight on STEM content knowledge and 21st-century skills that are needed to be successful innovators and STEM professionals.”
Teachers from the participating schools and peer-mentors who were themselves BUILDERS students during last year’s academy served as leaders during this year’s program. Each played a vital role by providing assistance to their peers in many areas, including high-tech and crafting support.
“It is refreshing to see our students in a different light,” said Crystal Johnson, a teacher in Montgomery’s Robert E. Lee High School. “Through programs such as the BUILDERS Academy, we see that our students not only retain knowledge, but they apply that knowledge to real-life situations. While we may view the task as overwhelming, they see it as a way of utilizing textbook concepts while flexing their creative muscles.”
The annual BUILDERS Academy is not exclusive to a 15-day summer experience. Instead, students will continue to benefit from and participate in the program throughout the upcoming school year. Following the summer academy, students will work in after-school settings to improve their prototypes throughout the school year. Ultimately, the students’ efforts will culminate in a final presentation in March 2019 at Tuskegee University to an audience that includes family, friends and others involved in supporting the program.
“The role of the summer portion of the BUILDERS program is to launch activities in an academy setting,” Qazi explained. “The students then take advantage of the momentum from the summer by continuing to improve and refine their prototypes during the school year with assistance from teachers and project faculty.”
The program, a partnership between Tuskegee and Oakland University in Michigan, is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. For more information, visit https://www.tuskegeebuildersacademy.org.
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