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Using Information Technology To Facilitate Accessible Engineering Outreach On A National Scale

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

K-8 Engineering & Access

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1412.1 - 10.1412.16



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Paper Authors

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Eugene Ressler

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Stephen Ressler

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3510

Using Information Technology to Facilitate Accessible Engineering Outreach on a National Scale

Stephen J. Ressler, Eugene K. Ressler United States Military Academy

Introduction This paper presents a description and comprehensive assessment of the West Point Bridge Design Contest—a nationwide, Internet-based competition that has provided an engaging introductory engineering experience to over 40,000 high-school and middle-school students in the past three years. We begin by discussing how existing national engineering competitions have influenced the development of our contest infrastructure—a specially developed simulation software package and a web-based judging system. We briefly describe the implementation of the contest and present a comprehensive assessment of the extent to which it is accomplishing its goals. The assessment results serve as the basis for conclusions about the viability of IT-enabled engineering outreach.

Goal The principal goal of this project is to increase awareness of and interest in engineering among a large, diverse population of middle-school and high-school students. By making engineering accessible to a broad audience, we seek to overcome students’ common misperception that engineering is an endeavor for the “technically elite.” 1

We suggest that this goal can be achieved by creating an authentic, engaging engineering design experience; by offering the experience as a competition that will capture and hold students’ attention; and by ensuring that the design experience is readily achievable by any student in the target population, while still presenting a challenge to those who are already technologically inclined.

The Influence of Other Engineering Competitions Using a national competition to promote science and engineering is by no means an original idea. The Science Olympiad, the FIRST Robotics competition, the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS) National Engineering Design Challenge, the Future City Competition, and Odyssey of the Mind have existed for many years and have achieved considerable success.2-6 Newer contests, like the Smith College Toy Challenge, appear every year.7 Other forms of outreach, such as direct classroom interventions by educators and practitioners, often incorporate competitions to engage and motivate students.8

In developing the West Point Bridge Design Contest (WPBDC), we sought to complement, rather than compete with, these existing competitions—to create a uniquely accessible format that might appeal to students who are unable or unwilling to participate in the other competitions. This goal influenced the design of our contest in four ways:

Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Ressler, E., & Ressler, S. (2005, June), Using Information Technology To Facilitate Accessible Engineering Outreach On A National Scale Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15348

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