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Project in a Box: Self-Contained Instructional Hands-On Kits for Electrical Engineering Outreach

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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

Electrical and Computer Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Phuong Truong University of California, San Diego Orcid 16x16

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Phuong Truong is currently a fifth year PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC San Diego. Following her passion for research and education, she has worked closely with faculty at the Jacobs School of Engineering since 2016 to develop and improve curriculum for experiential learning courses. Her areas of focus include experiential learning, curriculum design, outreach program design, and engineering leadership.

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Nicholas Stein University of California, San Diego

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Works as the Project Development and Outreach Coordinator for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at UC San Diego.

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Truong Nguyen University of California, San Diego Orcid 16x16

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Truong Nguyen is a Distinguished Professor at UCSD. His current research interests are video processing and machine learning algorithms with applications in health monitoring/diagnosis and 3D modeling. He received the IEEE Signal Processing Paper Award for the paper he co-wrote with Prof. P. P. Vaidyanathan on linear-phase perfect-reconstruction filter banks (1992). He received the NSF Career Award in 1995.

While serving as department Chair (2014-2019), Prof. Nguyen and several faculty and student tutors developed a comprehensive hands-on curriculum for the ECE Dept. that emphasizes system-thinking and human-centric design. He is currently working on several projects with minority serving institutions on improving students enrollment in STEM fields.

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It is an exciting time in STEM education as more technologies have become affordable and readily available with online support structures and forums. Teaching and engaging the younger generation of students to encourage a pathway to STEM is still of importance to our national STEM efforts and is easier now with these available technological tools. However, there remains a barrier to entry as many available technologies or kits require a well-versed person in the areas of engineering, technology, or science to understand and follow the instructions.

In this paper, we report on a self-contained project kit platform for hands-on learning in outreach programs and experiential environments that overcomes barriers to entry in electrical engineering education. These kits, referred to as, “Project in a Box” or PiB kits, teach a myriad of electrical engineering topics, including, basic control theory, robotics, circuits, electronics, and programming. The step-by-step manual with 3D visual aids and comments, allows untrained students, parents, and faculty to follow along given the provided kits. We have successfully deployed PiB kits in courses, programs, outreach workshops, public library workshops, and faculty outreach training seminars. The target demographic of these kits ranges from middle school to high school. We highlight our results from our flagship Family Program and community outreach in this paper. The Family Program and Library Program deploys these kits through a series of workshops aimed at raising awareness in STEM for parents and children and encourage teamwork in families through hands-on. Both programs encourage participants to become the teachers of their community further proliferating the efforts to encourage STEM.

Assessment is measured by percentage of completed kits, as completing the kits demonstrate competency in the target learning areas and ability to recreate the projects as intended. Based on over 25 workshops and over 100 recurring participants, we have over 85% success rate of completion. The instruction manual features 3D visual aids, simple instructions and explanations, comments, and clear steps. We highlight the instruction manual as a platform for scaling and replicating these programs in other universities and programs. Finally, we discuss future outlook on outreach to propose pipelines to increase reach efforts in the context of our future collaborations with the San Diego Library Network and the Institute of the Americas STEAM Programming for South America.

In summary, we present a hardware platform for self-paced learning and outreach in electrical engineering. We utilize the context of a unique Family Program and Library Program to provide potential deployment avenues in which electrical engineering departments may benefit from building community, gaining visibility, and expanding their outreach efforts when using the kits.

Truong, P., & Stein, N., & Nguyen, T. (2021, July), Project in a Box: Self-Contained Instructional Hands-On Kits for Electrical Engineering Outreach Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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