Texas Tech partners with the Army Educational Outreach Program to get high school students excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
School is officially back in session. As students transition from sun-soaked afternoons to having their heads buried in books, they'll be discussing their summer activities with friends. Some students may reflect on the fun trips they took to exotic locations while others just enjoyed lounging at home playing video games.
However, three local high school students will tell their friends how they assisted with a research project at Texas Tech University through the Research and Engineering Apprenticeship Program (REAP).
Texas Tech partners with the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) to offer REAP, which is funded by the AEOP. REAP is a paid summer internship program that focuses on developing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) competencies among high school students from groups historically underrepresented and underserved in STEM, such as females, minorities and first-generation college students.
“We are giving students the opportunity to work in the labs and get hands-on experience with science and engineering,” said Stephen Bayne, associate chairman for graduate studies and professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering. “It's not only exposing high school students to STEM, but it's also exposing high school students to the U.S. Army. A lot of people hear the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, but they don't realize there is a lot of advanced research going on at these places solving advanced problems.”
Bayne brought REAP to Texas Tech in 2009 by writing a proposal to the AEOP. To help move things along, he needed support. Janet McKelvey, the administrative assistant for electrical and computer engineering, has been helping out from the beginning.
“Dr. Bayne approached me and mentioned the REAP program,” McKelvey said. “He asked if I minded doing the paperwork, and I said, ‘No, I'd be more than happy to do it.' I get all the information from the students, and I meet with their parents. I make sure all the paperwork is done, and I do the filing with the REAP headquarters, which is located in New Hampshire.”
To find students with the potential to participate in REAP but may have never heard of the program, Bayne visits local high schools for recruitment. McKelvey helps with that as well.
“I reach out to all the schools and contact the person in the engineering departments,” she said. “We go to the schools and talk about the program. We talk about the benefits of the program, Stephen gives examples of the students who have previously participated and we hand out brochures. A lot of kids hear about it through word-of-mouth. They'll start to hear their friends went through the program and that they loved it.”
The schools that have participated in REAP are Frenship High School, Estacado High School, Lubbock High School, Monterey High School, Harmony Science Academy and the Margaret Talkington School for Young Women Leaders.
Summer 2018 students
Originally, there were three students who qualified for a REAP-funded spot in the program. When two of those student unexpectedly left for the summer, Bayne decided to reach out to other students interested in the program. The two candidates chosen to fill the empty spots did not meet the requirements for REAP funding, but were still able to participate in the program, thanks to Bayne's efforts.
“I'm paying for the other two out of my overhead return,” Bayne said. “There are at least two criteria students have to meet to be in REAP, but when I recruit at a high school, I see some good students who may not qualify. If they want to participate, then I will bring them in with my own funds.”
In order to be eligible for REAP, high school students must be a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident and meet two of the following requirements:
- Attending a rural, frontier or other targeted outreach schools
- Student is a female interested in certain STEM fields (e.g., physical science, computer science, mathematics or engineering)
- Student is a minority historically underrepresented in STEM (Alaskan Native, Native American, Black or African American, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander)
- Student qualifies for free or reduced lunch
- Student has been enrolled in English as a Second Language courses
- Student is a first-generation college student
This year, three female students participated in the program, two from Lubbock High and one from Talkington. Jin Yan, the student funded through REAP and a Lubbock High senior, said the program taught her to be more abstract with her thinking.
“What this experience has taught me is that there is more than following step-by-step instructions,” she said. “You can't look at instructions and do step 1, step 2, step 3, and expect everything to work like setting up a kitchen appliance or something. And whenever something breaks, as it normally does on the first few tries, you have to troubleshoot and figure out how all these pieces work together.
“This isn't something you can look up online. This is something you have to figure out yourself. I think problem-solving is definitely something I learned at this program.”
Doreen Shi, a senior at Lubbock High, echoed Yan's sentiment.
“The problem-solving aspect of the program has been super fulfilling,” Shi said. “It's taught us to not do methodical things step-by-step, but to actually complete a process where we think for ourselves. It's made us become more critical thinkers. Even though it's a science field, we've learned to be more creative in solving problems.”
Katy Johnson, a senior at Talkington, has always had a strong interest in engineering, and the internship provided her the opportunity to explore that interest.
“I know I'm going to pursue engineering in college, so I figured this apprenticeship would help me narrow down my options of the wide variety of engineering majors Texas Tech has to offer,” Johnson said. “I have narrowed it down to either mechanical or electrical engineering since I've gone through this program.”
During the 10-week internship, the students designed and created a home automation system, which they presented at the end of the program. Johnson worked on the solenoid locking system and a frequency activation system.
“What I built is what's basically in car remotes when you unlock and lock your car,” she said. “It sends a frequency to your car that triggers it to lock or unlock.”
Yan worked on a fire detector and a carbon dioxide detector, while Shi worked on a temperature display and control system with a fan. The control system also is a distress call that sends a signal in Morse code through a buzzer.
“Mine and Doreen's systems are more integrated,” Yan said. “My carbon dioxide detector and her temperature sensor are displayed on a screen, and then my carbon dioxide and fire detectors both trigger her distress call.”
“It's been interesting having a more collaborative experience than we expected, but it has been really fulfilling,” Johnson said.
Two engineering students pursuing their doctorates, Matthew Kim and Jonathan Forbes, mentored the girls during the summer. It allowed them to gain teaching experience while working on their degrees.
“For the mentors, it's about training them how to supervise and direct research because they have to direct, mentor and train the students,” Bayne said. “It gives them a lot of opportunities to lead technical projects.”
Throughout the internship, Yan, Johnson and Shi had to show the progress of their home automation system and give a final presentation to Bayne and others.
“We gave progress presentations every other week, as well as a final presentation to Dr. Bayne and students in the electrical engineering department,” Yan said. “Our abilities to think on our feet significantly improved, and we felt more confident giving 30-40 minute technical presentations, something we did not experience within the high school classroom setting.”
Many high school students either don't know about programs like REAP or disregard them. However, opportunities like these are available and advantageous, especially in preparing young students for college and the “real world.”
“Many high schools don't have an engineering course,” Yan said. “Sure you learn physics and chemistry and biology, but you don't have that hands-on experience. And what high school really doesn't prepare you for is the outside world. I think this program teaches hands-on, practical skills that help ease the transition.”
Shi emphasized the need for high school students to explore their options.
“I think it's really important for high school students, if they want to pursue something, to actively look for something that will give them real experience,” Shi said. “They should pursue something that they don't just learn from a textbook or a class, but something they actually do themselves where they have to think for themselves and also figure out all the extra stuff that comes with it.
“It's not ‘we're just learning engineering.' We're also learning how to formulate a plan, organize our assets and present our ideas to people.”
REAP has left an indelible mark on the lives of all who have participated. In the past nine years, there have been 29 participants. Some students have gone on to be valedictorians of their high schools while the majority attended, or attend, prestigious universities across the U.S., such as MIT, Rice University and, of course, Texas Tech. This speaks volumes to the level of success REAP students reach.
One of the lasting benefits to REAP participants has been the networking opportunities the students receive.
“I found a vast networking environment during my time here,” Yan said. “I spoke with professors, and Dr. Bayne introduced me to his students and colleagues. They gave me useful information about engineering and how to solve some of the problems we encountered. They also gave me a lot of advice on college and career choices that facilitated my college application process and helped me plan future goals.”
The girls have a pretty clear idea of what they want to do after graduating high school.
Johnson is going to major in engineering, but is debating on whether to pursue mechanical or electrical. She is looking to continue her education at Texas Tech.
Yan wants to go to dental school and is looking to major in finance while pursuing the pre-dentistry track. She would like to attend the University of Texas.
Shi wants to attend schools like the University of Southern California and New York University to become an animator, but also is keeping her options open.
“I think REAP has encouraged me to look into other stuff alongside learning art and animation,” she said.