Visioneering at SMU provides engineering fun to middle schoolers

By Madeleine Kalb

Almost 1,000 North Texas middle school students will invade SMU Saturday to engage in real-world engineering projects as part of the annual Visioneering event.

Students from as far as Austin and Fort Worth will arrive in groups of 10-30 with their teachers to imagine and design the classroom of the future at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering.

“We’ll ask them to build a 3-D version of this classroom of the future,” Gray Garmon, designer and visiting clinical professor of design and innovation at Lyle, said in a prepared statement. “We have purchased a bunch of unlabeled shoeboxes and we will give them cardboard, modeling clay, tinfoil, pipe cleaners and little figurines.”

Buses will arrive on campus at 8:15 a.m., after which a high-octane pep rally will welcome the students to SMU. Students will then be divided into their teams and be assigned an engineer mentor to begin designing their classroom of the future. The project is a competition and is designed to be fun and educational.

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Middle school students engage at last year’s Visioneering event. Photo credit: SMU

“Some of the kids have never been to a college campus or even been exposed to engineering,” said Heather Hankamer, assistant director of special programs at Lyle. “It is a mentoring experience and provides great exposure and opportunity for these kids.”

Hankamer also said that North Texas engineers from companies including Halliburton volunteer to mentor and work with these students. The event is free to all students.

Middle school teachers donate their Saturday morning to bring their student teams to compete and gain real-world design, teamwork, problem-solving and engineering experience.

“I want them to think, how do you build community? How do you connect to a classroom in Mongolia? How can you branch the classroom out from the walls without ever leaving?” Garmon said.

Texas Instruments has been the program’s lead sponsor since it was formed 16 years ago. Sponsors also include Fluor, Lockheed Martin, Bell Helicopter and Time Warner Cable.

“I think it is so great that SMU provides this opportunity. It just speaks to how much SMU cares about its community and not just its immediate student body,” Hankamer said.

According to Hankamer, whether the students ever decide to study at SMU or not, the program is simply designed to provide them with exposure and experience in the engineering field with real professionals.

“The experience and exposure is invaluable to these kids,” Hankamer said.

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