Nishant Verma, a junior in bioengineering (BIOE) at Rice University, describes the course he teaches other undergraduates as “taking stuff apart and rebuilding new stuff.”
According to the university catalog, the one-credit College Course 198 is more properly called “Hands-On Electronics,” and there’s a waiting list of students who want to enroll. One student from the fall semester, Manuel Pacheco, a sophomore in electrical and computer engineering (ECE), was attracted to the class by its Maker spirit.
“We don’t always get a chance to work with our hands. I thought it would be fun to take things apart, like when we were kids,” Pacheco said.
Verma was so pleased with the enthusiasm his class generated he repeated it spring semester and then had an even bigger idea. Why not organize an electronics outreach class for kids in grades six through nine? With the help of Pacheco and two other former students, Fasai Phuathavornskul, a junior in ECE, and Patricia DaSilva, a senior in BIOE, he created For the Love of Learning.
On Feb. 14, Verma and the others premiered their class – Verma calls his approach “curiosity-based learning” – at the YES Prep Brays Oaks Middle School, part of a public charter school system in Houston. “We wanted to give them a vision for what a future education in engineering might look like,” he said.
As an exercise in applied engineering, Verma had 12 students break up into groups of four. Each group was given a disposable camera to dissect. The highlight was using a screwdriver to short out the capacitor, resulting in sparks and a small explosion.
“I was surprised by how attentive and mature they were. We wanted them to appreciate that there is a safety aspect involved. We exposed them to the edge of danger,” Phuathavornskul said.
The following Saturday, the middle-school kids and three teachers visited the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. There they took apart everyday objects – a printer, a radio-controlled toy car – and created something new out of the disassembled parts. They also got a tour of the OEDK and spoke with several engineering design teams.
“The feedback from the students and their teachers was positive. The kids, who are from some of Houston’s underserved communities, were engaged and a sense of joy was evident,” Verma said. A second class took place March 7 at YES Prep North Central, and other school visits are planned.
A representative from the IEEE Electronic Devices Society, Douglas Verret, a Texas Instrument retiree, observed the class and, in Verma’s words, “commended us on the level of energy and student engagement we had achieved.”
The faculty adviser to For the Love of Learning is Caleb Kemere, assistant professor of ECE and BIOE. Students wanting more information about the program can contact Verma at firstname.lastname@example.org.