Sunday, 13 January 2002
Junior Engineering and Science Conference
The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Aerospace Conference sponsors a Junior Engineering and Science Conference for participants in grades kindergarten through 12. This junior conference has been ongoing for seven years and the authors have been co-chairs for the past four years. The conference has significantly grown over that time. Children are encouraged to submit papers for presentation at the conference. Mentoring by a practicing scientist or engineer is encouraged. The youngest participants typically do a literature review of an engineering or science topic that interests them. The older participants are encouraged to delve deeper into their topic or to do original research. These topics reach well beyond the usual classroom project. The participants prepare an oral presentation with visual aids in the form of transparencies or Powerpoint. A question and answer period follows. The junior participants have shown an amazing ability to present excellent quality talks with wonderful visual aids. The talks are given in a special conference session reserved for the junior engineers and scientists. These sessions are typically well attended by professionals and college level educators as well as the other participants. The audience is generally very supportive.
The participants learn how to integrate information, gain a deeper understanding of an area of engineering or science, prepare and deliver an oral presentation with visual aids, and experience answering technical questions in front of an audience. The junior participants often tell us that although they work hard in their preparation and are quite nervous before the talk, that after the fact they believe the experience has greatly increased their confidence in their abilities to complete a project, present it, and give a public talk. It also effectively enhances their self-esteem by demonstrating that they can do a good job at a difficult task. Many of the participants practice their talks in their classroom prior to the conference, disseminating the experience to a much larger number of children. Many of the participants express a newfound interest in pursuing a career in a scientific field.
A junior conference such as this for children K-12 is a paradigm that may be useful for other organizational conferences seeking educational outreach venues.