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Infrastructure Technology Institute

ITI and NU ASCE Give Middle School Students a Taste of Engineering


Research Engineers Mat Kotowsky and Brian Quezada help kids walk across the steel bridge recently constructed by the Northwestern ASCE Student Chapter for a competition.

Northwestern’s student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (NU-ASCE) and the Infrastructure Technology Institute (ITI) addressed a group of 90 middle school students from Waukegan, Illinois, to give them a glimpse of the lives of engineering students in college. The NU-ASCE/ITI demonstration was part of a larger, day-long event coordinated by Promote 360, a student organization that aims to enhance social, academic, and professional well-being of minority and under-represented students.

The goal of the day was to immerse underprivileged students in a broad survey of activities that would educate them about campus life and inspire them to pursue higher education . After introductions and ice-breaking activities, the students ate lunch in a dining hall and toured the campus. In the afternoon, the students attended performances and presentations from various Northwestern student groups, including NU-ASCE/ITI.

The NU-ASCE speakers, Civil Engineering juniors Hannah Iezzoni and Kendra Pickard, focused their presentation on a general introduction to engineering, showing the students the many ways engineers benefit society. The speakers touched upon many of the different engineering majors available at Northwestern as well as the extracurricular activities in which they both take part, including joining a team that designed and built real bridges from scratch.

The second portion of the presentation was a live demonstration of the steel bridge that NU-ASCE members had just constructed for the annual ASCE-sponsored Student Steel Bridge Competition, held the previous month in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With instruction and assistance from ITI staff engineers, NU-ASCE members installed strain sensors on portions of the bridge, allowing the visiting students to see measurements showing how the bridge “felt” the weight of the ASCE members as they showed that the bridge could easily support several adults standing on it at once.

At the end of the presentation, the visiting students were invited to walk across the bridge on a special wooden deck constructed for the demonstration. As NU-ASCE members guided the students over the bridge, the audience watched in amazement as the sensor readings showed their footsteps as they walked across the wood and steel structure. As the students finished their walk, they were treated to a close-up view of the strain sensors, smaller than the size of a postage stamp, which made possible the demonstration that they’d just seen.

Andrea Abel, coordinator of the Special Projects Office of Northwestern’s President, praises the students of Promote 360, and says that bringing student groups to campus is a valuable extension of the Good Neighbor, Great University initiative, which seeks to make Northwestern accessible to students in the Chicago area. It’s an opportunity for Northwestern students to work with younger students, and “President Schapiro is interested in connecting to the community,” she emphasized, noting that the University would like to bring more K-12 student groups to campus.