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It’s the process, not the product: Baltimore City students present prototypes at symposium, innovation showcase

Leaders of the Baltimore City Engineering Alliance write about the work of high school seniors in Baltimore City Public Schools to design and develop new solutions.

Team Earthbot presents at the 2019 Baltimore City Public Schools Engineering Design and Development Symposium. (Photo by Nick Yates)
This guest post was co-authored by Baltimore City Engineering Alliance President Dennis Ndati Secretary John Bachman, and Treasurer Nick Yates. They teach Project Lead the Way engineering courses at three different Baltimore City Public Schools.

On April 30, over 100 high school seniors participated in the 2019 Baltimore City Public Schools Engineering Design and Development Symposium. This year’s event was held at the Glass Pavilion in Levering Hall on the Johns Hopkins University campus.

Students gave a 10-minute oral presentation to engineers, college professors, and industry partners, and also displayed a poster board along with their prototypes. While this seems like ABC’s Shark Tank, the focus was more on how they got there than on the final product itself.

Students explained how they navigated through the engineering design process, beginning by identifying and justifying the problem, then performing research, identifying constraints, making a plan, choosing the best of several options. They also discussed making sketches, technical drawings and 3D models, constructing one or more iterations of a prototype and testing it.

What issues or concerns do today’s 17-year-olds have? Many great ideas were on display, such as an app to make singing in tune more accessible, a robot designed to assist with search and rescue missions, a locker that can be opened with a student’s fingerprint, a furniture lift to help when flooding occurs, a modular algae collector, and a system of removable padded straps for backpacks.

The teams with the best ideas – and work demonstrating outstanding application of the engineering design process – were invited to an evening reception at Morgan State University the following week, our Innovation Showcase.

These students are enrolled in a national curriculum called Project Lead the Way, which is a five-course engineering pathway for high schools, with programs in biomedical and computer sciences (and additional programs for elementary and middle Schools). Four of the five courses expose the students to the essentials of 3D design, a survey of engineering disciplines, documenting their research, and digital electronics, and the fifth course varies from school to school specialty such as Computer Integrated Manufacturing or Civil Engineering and Architecture.

The two events (Symposium and Showcase) were organized by the Baltimore City Engineering Alliance, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization created by BCPSS teachers to help fund and supplement their programs. This help includes organizing events, providing classroom supplies and equipment, and funding field trips for students to experience work-based learning.

The events were made possible thanks to the support of JHU Whiting School of Engineering, Morgan State University, Northrop Grumman Corporation, MECU and the Baltimore Office for Promotion and the Arts, WRA, and Society of Women Engineers.

We hope to see you there next year!


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