Before coming to Penn, I had never tried computer science. Though I was applying to the engineering school, I knew very little about the different engineering majors and didn’t know how to find out more about them. Throughout high school, and especially when applying to colleges and thinking more about what I wanted to study, I wished there had been a better way to learn more about the majors I’d potentially be immersing myself in when I went to college. It was one thing to hear students and professionals speak about different types of engineering, but another thing entirely to actually get experience in different areas.
When I came to Penn as a student, within a few weeks, I found out about a volunteer student organization called Access Engineering. Access Engineering is a group of Penn students who teach engineering lessons to high school students on Saturdays for eight weeks a semester. Around one hundred high school students come to Penn Engineering on Saturday mornings from local high schools all around Philly. As sophomores, juniors, or seniors in high school, they get exposure to over five different engineering majors and get to use equipment and learn skills that Penn students use, including programs like SolidWorks, Arduino, Java, Python, and more.
I decided to join Access Engineering to give other high school students an amazing opportunity to learn more about STEM and also to learn about some of the other engineering majors myself. I was amazed at some of the things these high school students were learning through our program and knew these valuable experiences would help them figure out what they wanted to explore more in the future; if I had gone through the same program in high school, I knew I would’ve had a lot more insight when it came to choosing my major in college. Though students apply to the program to ensure they are interested, Access Engineering provides students with lunch and transportation reimbursements to try and make the program accessible for all students with no cost. It is so rewarding to be able to help students discover they really love doing something they’ve never been exposed to before or to witness as they finally figure out how to do something.
I’ve also been able to explore some of the other majors and disciplines through teaching these different lessons. I primarily teach Mechanical Engineering lessons, since last year when I began as a Mechanical Engineering major I took some of those electives and am pretty familiar with SolidWorks, the 3D modeling software used. I also have had the opportunity to help out with Bioengineering, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science. This semester, we are exploring Virtual Reality and exposing the students to some of the potential applications of this technology. Through the Penn Libraries research project, PennImmersive, Penn has been an engaging campus in the possibilities of virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3D modeling. Access Engineering has been able to take advantage of this by having some of the teachers trained in the software, and now we’re able to show high school students a whole other world of possibilities. We’re able to use some of the equipment Penn Libraries has, such as Oculus and Google Cardboard headsets, to show students the potential that virtual and augmented reality have in the classroom, in healthcare, or in gaming.
Through Access, I’ve realized I really enjoy teaching, and it’s something I may want to pursue more in the future. It’s been a fun challenge to keep students engaged, to figure out how to present the material in a way that will be interesting and easy to understand and to give students enough of a challenge to get them to work hard at figuring something out. At first, I was nervous teaching students only a year or two younger than I was, but I’ve realized teaching others doesn’t mean I have to have all the answers, and it’s really helped me to understand the material better when I’m trying to explain it to others. Being in Access Engineering really inspires me, both through the high school students who are so eager to learn, but also through the Penn students who wake up early on Saturday mornings to go teach. If you know anything about college students, you know that Saturday mornings aren’t an ideal time for us. But we wake up, walk to engineering, and invest our time into paying forward the opportunities that Penn has given us. Access has given me leadership opportunities, chances to connect with high school students excited about STEM in the Philly community, and a community of Penn students who are passionate about teaching others.