Get involved: help the STEM Outreach Club inspire the community

Posted: May 24, 2018

In order for inspiration to take root, it first requires the desire to get involved, to participate in something worthwhile. With a focus on making the future better, get young minds to listen. Outreach is the key. 

One professor at The Ohio State University tells this story often and well - with 23,399 youngsters reached to date.

For more than 10 years, Dr. Betty Lise Anderson, a professor and associate chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), has provided free STEM-based learning opportunities for K-12 students and children within the Columbus-area.

Anderson said expanding this outreach over the years has not only helped inspire new students to attend Ohio State, it has shown underprivileged children more options in life, and led to an entire team of outreach undergraduates to take part in her mission. They are all looking for more students in the upcoming autumn 2018 class to help push their work even further.

“At the time, our enrollments were down (in ECE). So, it started off with the department chair thinking, ‘Well maybe we should start talking to high school kids to get them interested in engineering.' Now, we’re way overwhelmed with ECE students," Anderson laughs. "But, there are a lot of kids in poor school districts or under-resourced neighborhoods who aren’t seeing any STEM examples.”

The outreach projects consist mostly of ECE-related topics, but as of summer 2017, the program became a student organization called the STEM Outreach Club; which incorporates broader STEM projects, while inviting students from any Ohio State major to volunteer. 

Jeffrey Simon, a second year ECE student, is the current club treasurer. Before college, he interned at Wright-Patterson Airforce Base in Dayton, Ohio, which offered a field trip to Ohio State. This is where Simon met Anderson and saw the potential in her efforts. Once enrolled in the university, he got involved as well.  

"(I wanted to) take on a leadership position and become more involved in IEEE," Simon said.

Getting Involved

When setting up events, the people at schools, libraries and camps often ask Anderson and her college volunteers to host the free hands-on activities at their facilities. 

Participants first learn the science behind a topic, then create a project to coincide.


Today, the STEM Outreach Club averages three events a week at different educational centers throughout central Ohio. The demand is high, but the assistance is low. Simon and his team – Club President Jenna Hardin, a third year in ECE; and Secretary Hongliang Si, a fourth-year in ECE – are working on getting the word out to the Ohio State community.

“We’re trying to get a little bit more regular with meetings, just to encourage more volunteers to come out,” Simon said. 

The group meets again in the 2018 autumn semester. Students interested in volunteering can visit the club webpage for contact information.

The Events and Projects 

Even though the STEM Outreach Club volunteers guide and answer questions, the projects are designed so anyone can do them. Creations range from a homemade audio speaker built from paper and coil that hooks up to a cellphone, to building circuits out of small batteries and wires, or making necklaces to spell out a child’s name in binary code.  

“The kids are so curious that they just try whatever they want without worrying about it failing,” Simon said. “And that’s kind of inspirational in college because, like everything, you’re expected to get it right.” 

Projects relating to other aspects of STEM besides ECE are currently being discussed and tested by the club, he said, with the hope of encouraging students from other majors to join and help out. 

Perfect for all Students 

During a recent outreach lesson at St. Andrew School in Upper Arlington, about 15 minutes from Ohio State campus, volunteers taught a variety of projects suitable to a specific grade. Two club volunteers were Kelly McCabe, a first year in biomedical engineering, and Brianne Osborn, a first year in animal science. Each helped, while also gaining volunteer hours for their STEM Engineering Education Scholars program. 

“Kids have weird perspectives on things,” Osborn said. “It’s always a new way to think of something and it’s fun to listen to their ideas.” 

McCabe said the diverse locations and projects are refreshing, and being able to interact with a wide range of students is enjoyable and exciting. 

Helping the Community 

Anderson said the point of giving back to the community is not just about science and technology outreach - it's about showing students pathways in life they might never have known otherwise.

“We went to this one school, and the teacher said, ‘It’s so good you’re here because these kids, the only career they can see, is a professional football player (because two of them came out of that school) and a drug dealer,’” Anderson said. “So, now we’re just trying to reach those kids, and any kids really, and show them some possibilities.”


Story by ECE Student PR Writer, Lydia Freudenberg