MNTL General News

Graduate students recognized for outreach activities

Danni Ball, MNTL intern
4/16/2015  8:00 am

A group of graduate students from MNTL were honored April 15 by the U of I Office of Volunteer Programs (OVP) for their engineering outreach efforts. Brian Williams was recognized for enriching the lives of local K-12 students through educational activities, while also making professional contributions to a national research center—the NSF Science & Technology Center for Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS). Alex Cerjanic, Brittany Weida, and other student volunteers were recognized for their science outreach partnership with a local grade school through the NanoSTRuCT program.

 Williams, a Mechanical Science and Engineering graduate student and EBICs trainee, designed and developed a light-controlled robot whose movements are activated by a laser pointer. For the past three years, he has demonstrated the robot for school children as part of Engineering Open House. The robot is an extension of the research being conducted by Williams and his advisor, Mechanical Science & Engineering Professor Taher Saif, as well as by Bioengineering Professor Rashid Bashir’s group, who are developing light-controlled millimeter-scale biobots.

In addition, Williams regularly participates in local engineering outreach activities like Science at the Market and Science Night at Leal Elementary School, where he shares his science enthusiasm and knowledge with Champaign-Urbana residents.

Pre-college students aren’t the only ones benefitting from Williams’ outreach efforts. More than 90 EBICS graduate students, faculty, staff, and industry partners took an ethics module that Williams led the development of in 2014 on ‘hyper-organs’ and engineered biological functions.

“Though Brian is making very important scientific contributions, he is also committed to educating the public about research discoveries through the activities he develops—this is very admirable,” said Bashir, Bioengineering Department head and principal investigator of the EBICS node at Illinois. “He would make an excellent teacher, mentor, and faculty member in the future.”

Members of the Nanoscale Science & Technology Resources for Community Teaching (NanoSTRuCT) project were also recognized by OVP. NanoSTRuCT was founded in 2014 by graduate students Cerjanic, Weida, and Jonathan Yen (Bioengineering); Vahid Mirshafiee (Materials Science and Engineering); and Ritu Raman (Mechanical Science & Engineering) as a way to increase the education resources for local K-12 youth.

Specifically, the NanoSTRuCT graduate students conduct nanotechnology- and bioengineering-related lessons for third graders at Booker T. Washingtoon STEM Academy in Champaign. In March, the BTW students shared what they had learned by leading demonstrations for visitors at Engineering Open House.

 “NanoSTRuCT volunteers are committed to Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) education,” said Carrie Kouadio, program coordinator for the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at MNTL and EBICS knowledge transfer coordinator. “They are responsible, engaging and inspiring people who are driven to reach out to the next generation of learners.”

During the summer, NanoSTRuCT volunteers also share their engineering knowledge with local community members through demonstrations at the local farmers market.