Twelve local high school teachers are ready to inspire the next generation of students after completing an extensive six-week Research Experience for Teachers (RET) site program with the College of Technology at the University of Houston. The RET project is designed for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) teachers and facilitates professional development and enhances knowledge about the cutting edge research in engineering design and manufacturing.
The RET site is a grant funded program from the National Science Foundation (NSF) spearheaded by Weihang Zhu, Ph.D., Associate Professor and the Graduate Program Coordinator of Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET), in collaboration with other MET faculty. Throughout the summer program, high school teachers worked with MET professors Kamran Alba, Zheng Fan, and Francisco Robles to conduct research trainings in thermal and fluid engineering, robotics and automation, 3-D printing and virtual reality. Participants engaged in curriculum counseling with professors Augustina Reyes, Burak Basaran, and Medhat El Nahas. Teachers also got the opportunity to experience hands-on training from field trips to local manufacturing companies with the purpose of bringing this knowledge back to their classrooms to spark an interest in STEM fields.
According to the NSF, there is shortage of high school teachers with sufficient knowledge in STEM content needed to develop advanced high school curriculum modules. The RET site program is working to bridge the gap between grade school and university engineering education. “We all know manufacturing is important and we are all talking about bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.,” said Zhu. “But how can we make this happen? We need to make changes through a change in fundamental engineering education.” Zhu mentioned that a considerable amount of education and training is required for advanced manufacturing jobs and that currently there is a demand of Americans with STEM knowledge and technical skills. He added that education in STEM disciplines should start at the grade-school level, through post-secondary education, and further if certain industry-recognized and competency-based credentials are necessary. Students who decide to follow this educational path could find themselves working in the oil and gas industry, material manufacturing, or automation as a Design, Product or Plant Engineer.
The RET site grant program will be making its return in summer 2022 and 2023 with 12 new high school STEM teachers ready to explore advanced design and manufacturing research topics. Zhu plans to re-apply for another RET site grant so that the College of Technology can continue to transform design and manufacture knowledge for many more years to come.