Liz Kirchner

Photos by Liz Kirchner
Mrs. Roper’s and Mrs. Meadows’ Christiansburg Primary School second grade classes stream down Betty Drive on their way to the Christiansburg Fire Department to learn about magnetism at a hands-on event hosted by six Virginia Tech electrical engineering students.

More than 100 second graders from Christiansburg Primary School marched down Betty Drive and crossed Depot Street with a police escort to arrive at the Christiansburg Fire Department where six VT engineering students hosted hands-on activities about magnetism in four two-hour events this week, part of an Equity in Engineering partnership with VT.

In fulfillment of a Design in Power Engineering senior project, Kashifa Kabeer

Thomas Moore, Andi Sherlock, Talor Sessions, Nick Falls and Anna Kulbaski designed projects around the children’s SOL goals.

The older students helped the CPS kids explore magnetism concepts like using a little wind turbine fan to light a light bulb, magnetizing a needle to make compasses with a floating cork, and testing whether spoons, crayons, and Brillo pads are magnetic and talking about why.

The VT seniors will present hands-on projects to second graders and a lecture format to fourth graders at Eastern Montgomery Elementary School.

“Second graders love touching things,” senior Nick Falls said.

Schools like CPS, that are further away from the Virginia Tech campus, and, because they are logistically more difficult to involve in class projects, are often left out.

The goal is to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), the seniors said.

“It’s what we’d be doing in our own classrooms, so they’re getting the hands-on experience for themselves,” second-grade teacher Kathy Roper said.

“Very engaging,” her counterpart, Mrs. Meadows said.

“They already knew the world is a big magnet,” senior Talor Sessions said manning the table exploring invisible magnetic field lines.

Gideon Sotak (left) and his Christiansburg Primary School classmates twist wire around nails to make and explore batteries with VT seniors Thomas Moore and Anna Kulbaski

At each of the four events over two days, 36 second graders arrived upstairs at the fire station’s large community room. Each senior manned a project table.

“The kids are really smart,” said Thomas Moore, helping kids with at the electromagnetic table wrapping wire around nails.

“While it was really hard to schedule six busy people at a time, the school was flexible and the community was very helpful,” said senior Andi Sherlock.

“We’ve done this for three years,” said Professor Dr. Virgilio Centeno, who teaches the Design in Power Engineering class. “We either do a little science fair like this one for second grade kids or a fourth and fifth grade class lecture and then a hands-on project. Teachers help us prepare.”

Anna Kulbaski, a senior with a job already lined up in Detroit, who’ll be working to build and improve electric and driverless cars, had had experiences like this when she was younger.

“My parents sent me to camp to learn this stuff. I really liked the hands-on part,” Kulbaski said.

“We get 12 to 15 percent female students, but then lose them. We think this kind of project will tell them. There’s no gender in Engineering,” Centeno said. “Hopefully, they’ll go to VT, but it doesn’t matter where they go.”

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