Engineers enrich minds of future visionaries at Young Innovators Fair

Young Innovators Fair Digi-Digits

Penn State students explain the process of 3D printing to K-12 students at the Young Innovators Fair.

Credit: Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — To engage, educate and encourage the next generation of engineers, Penn State’s College of Engineering brought design to life at the Young Innovators Fair, a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) exhibition held at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pennsylvania, Jan. 2-3.

The weekend focused on the importance of STEM disciplines and their roles as the building blocks of innovation. By highlighting 10 categorized innovation worlds with varying activities and exhibits, the fair provided more than 20,000 K-12 students and their parents with the opportunity to experiment with and learn from experts in STEM fields.

Featured in the Builders Boulevard world, the College of Engineering’s booth included 3D printers, fully functional prosthetic hands known as Digi-Digits and an aluminum foil boat challenge. These activities showcased how engineers impact everyday life to more than 4,000 booth visitors.  

Jesse McTernan, instructor in the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs, said booth visitors were introduced to key elements of the engineering design process by prototyping their own prosthetic hand using modeling clay. The display emphasized the humanitarian aspects of engineering through the Digi-Digits display, which demonstrated 3D printing as a tool to transform prototypes into final products.

“For me, STEM represents a state of mind, philosophy, or general disposition of how to analyze the world and tackle open-ended challenges,” he said. “That strategy can be applied in all walks of life. The sooner a child is introduced to these topics, the more likely it will become a way of life rather than a pastime that gets turned on and off.”

Sven Bilén, head of the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs and professor of engineering design, electrical engineering, and aerospace engineering, stressed the importance of sharing what engineering is and what engineers do with children through events like the Young Innovators Fair.

“We’re becoming even more and more of a highly technological society,” he said. “It’s important to have practitioners that can operate in that society. The earlier you can engage kids and help them understand what engineering is, the more likely they are to go into that discipline.”

In addition to demonstrating how engineers take what they know and bring its benefits to the world, the fair served as a platform for advertising the Multidisciplinary Engineering Design option within the General Engineering degree (GE-MDE) offered in the Philadelphia region. The degree is delivered via a partnership between the Penn State Abington College, Penn State Brandywine and the School of Graduate Professional Studies at Penn State Great Valley. Kathryn Jablokow, associate professor of mechanical engineering and engineering design at Penn State Great Valley, serves as the coordinator for the GE-MDE degree, which fuses together elements of the mechanical, electrical and computer engineering fields with an engineering design focus.

“It’s important to show parents and children that right here in Philadelphia, Penn State offers amazing STEM degrees,” Jablokow said. “It’s important for our faculty to see where our students are coming from – their current challenges, questions, and what they are curious about. Getting out there, hearing people, and letting them ask us questions allows us to know what is going on outside our laboratories.”