Middle School Students Catch (Sound) Waves at Duke

8/14/23 Pratt School of Engineering

Duke’s Pre-College engineering summer program builds opportunities for creativity and innovation through introductory audio engineering

Middle School Students Catch (Sound) Waves at Duke

Frequency. Wavelength. Amplitude.

These properties of sound are the first things that current middle school students in Duke’s Pre-College Engineering Outreach Program learned over their 10-day audio engineering course.

Over the past two months, the program has offered three sessions of the course. During the program, students from around the country and the world have the unique opportunity to experience learning and academic innovation in a collegiate environment—eating, sleeping and engineering alongside Duke college students.

At the start of the crash course, students learn the basics of audio: how sound travels and why our ears hear the way they do. As the course progresses, students acquire some electrical engineering skills by tackling numerous small hands-on projects, like 3D printing a base and designing and building an amplifier. All the small projects add up to one awesome final project: a working loudspeaker.

By the end of the course, students have been exposed to a handful of different aspects of audio engineering– electrical engineering, architectural acoustics, 3D modeling, etc– that nurture diverse interests and showcase the endless opportunities in the engineering world.

“The whole point of the program is to show why engineering is so fun,” said Greg Hernandez, a second-year ECE PhD student at Duke and the creator of the audio engineering program.

Hernandez said he wanted to do outreach and started the program to help young students, who might not otherwise have the opportunity, get excited about engineering and use their creativity to become innovative builders, learners and thinkers.

A student stands with their finished speaker project “The best part was just seeing them build the speakers and having these giant smiles on their faces after they turned them on,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said that his love for music and desire to understand the mechanics behind sound initially got him into engineering. He also said he wanted to create the same space for other young people to explore their own passions through engineering.

Besides amplifying students’ smiles, the program helps expose students to all the different ways and areas that engineering can be used, highlighting how non-conventional and creative engineering truly is.

“We try to inspire them to be creative and learn on their own and ask questions about what they are interested in,” said Jack Deriso, an audio technology graduate from Clemson who led two of the three sessions this summer.

The program also gives students of all academic backgrounds a rare opportunity to succeed in and experience a collegiate atmosphere. The students use classrooms and electrical engineering labs housed in Duke Engineering’s new state-of-the-art Wilkinson Building. As a result, students are able to get a glimpse of what a college environment looks and feels like and know that it is attainable.

“We want to inspire them to continue their education and pursue their interests,” Deriso said.

While enrollments for this summer are currently closed, information on next year’s program will be available starting in November.

“I believe that everyone has an engineer within them,” Hernandez said.