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Engagement in Practice: Performing STEM Outreach During a Pandemic

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Community-Engaged Engineering Education Challenges and Opportunities in Light of COVID-19 Paper Presentations 1

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Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, Community Engagement Division, and Equity, Culture & Social Justice in Education

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Paper Authors


Bob Schaffer Mission College

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Dr. Bob Schaffer is the department chair (and professor in) the Engineering Department at Mission College (Santa Clara, CA). He is also a lecturer at Santa Clara University where he teaches a variety of classes in the General and Electrical Engineering departments. His classes include Introduction to Engineering, Introduction to Computing for Engineers, Programming and Problem-Solving in MATLAB, STEM Outreach in the Community, and Digital Signal Processing.

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In STEM Outreach in the Community, students traditionally satisfy a mandatory “Experiential Learning and Social Justice” requirement through the creation and leading of engineering activities with students at local educational partner sites. During a pandemic, when partner sites are not prepared to welcome virtual volunteers, creativity is required. This paper will present the efforts, roadblocks, and eventual successes that transpired over the Spring 2019 quarter and since as virtual outreach opportunities were explored and, eventually, found. Additionally, the benefits of the new partnerships – specifically one between a university and a local community college – will be discussed. Since pre-existing partners were not ready for virtual visits after the move to online, new collaborations had to be formed. The author’s role at two schools – the university where the outreach class is taught (Santa Clara University, SCU) and a nearby community college (Mission College) – allowed university students to provide virtual tutoring to in-need community college students in gateway classes that usually prevent their advancement. These, generally first-generation, college students are statistically at a disadvantage compared to their peers in terms of academic preparation [1,2]. Additional opportunities were found with SCU’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter as university students provided free programming lessons to low-income 7th grade girls. A third partnership was established with an elementary school where the university students provided individual tutoring. The remaining university students created videos to help recent transfer students adjust to their transition to four-year universities. Some hurdles encountered along the way are also worth discussion. Partners often required local background checks that prevented online collaboration; while other sites navigated this issue by having background-checked volunteers chaperone the university tutors. An unforeseen advantage to the university/community college partnership was the connection that both sides felt. The students receiving tutoring were inspired by their university peers while the tutors themselves became very invested – often going well beyond their required 16 hours. This paper will explore the relationships formed throughout the duration of the distance education requirement.

Schaffer, B. (2021, July), Engagement in Practice: Performing STEM Outreach During a Pandemic Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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