Amy Cohn, Associate Professor, Industrial and Operations Engineering
I'm one of many U-M faculty who volunteer in the public schools, helping to get students excited about math, science and technology, from a very young age. I'm particularly, but not exclusively, interested in getting young girls involved. It puts the option of becoming an engineer or scientist on their radar screen. Washtenaw County holds a Science Olympiad every year for the elementary schools. Hundreds of kids and many schools participate. This year I coached "Estimania" for my son's school -- one team of second graders, one team of third graders and one of fourth. (My second graders won gold!)
The Science Olympiad is a particularly good vehicle for immersing students in math, science and technology. It links the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education coalition with fun projects, such as building structures, airplanes and helicopters, a little healthy competition, a very social environment, physical activities, teamwork and then a major event at the end.
Seeing the response of the students, ranging from first to fourth grade, was so inspiring -- they were happy to get up early and come to school to do math -- unbelievable! Many of them have already asked if I'll coach the same event next year -- they're ready to go!
I also did some tutoring, going to a fourth-grade classroom one day a week during their math time. I'd work with three or four kids who were falling behind, giving them some very focused attention and a fresh perspective on the material. There were some kids that I'd work with, week after week, and I really enjoyed developing that connection and feeling like they were picking up on at least a little bit of my excitement -- it wasn't just slogging through something terrible, like taking medicine, but we were also talking about the fun things I like to do using math.