Outreach Design Education Launches in Duke BME

3/14 Pratt School of Engineering

The immersive design program will help introduce younger students across local Durham schools to practical engineering concepts

Aaron Kyle (right) discusses engineering with students at his previous outreach program in New York.
Outreach Design Education Launches in Duke BME

When Aaron Kyle joined Duke Biomedical Engineering in July 2022, one of his immediate goals was to develop an outreach program that could help younger students—particularly underrepresented minority students—learn about engineering and design concepts.

That program has come to fruition in the form of Outreach Design Education, or ODE for short.

ODE was developed to give students the practical skills to both identify problems and develop solutions using basic engineering skills. The goal, Kyle says, is for the students to transform an idea from a far-off concept into a practical, finished project. In his position as a professor of the practice in Duke BME, Kyle will work with the Duke community on these efforts, leveraging the design instructors and student leaders within Duke BME to help him reach and energize the next generation of engineers.

“My approach to engineering education is finding the best ways to teach students how to identify and solve a problem,” says Kyle. “When we can make engineering more accessible and enjoyable to more people, we can make engineering more comprehensive, helpful and inclusive to all.”

This is not Kyle’s first foray into outreach design programs. He led summer engineering bootcamps in New York City since 2014, inviting local students to come into Columbia University’s workspaces and build biomedical devices. Those programs spanned more than 40 successful projects, and Kyle helped create seven design-centric high school classes that have impacted over 1000 high school students.

Now, he’s optimistic that ODE could have a similar impact across Durham and the larger Research Triangle area. The program will involve three different educational opportunities: The ODE Hackathon, the ODE Summer Design Camp, and the Summer Design Camp for Teachers. Held on March 24 and 25, 2023 on Duke’s West campus, the ODE Hackathon is open to middle school students and their teachers. Over two days, the students will participate in introductory engineering design activities and practice using rapid prototyping tools like 3-D printers, laser cutters and Arduino programming to design and create their own devices.

“There is a lot of literature about when students develop an engineering identity and persistence, and we’re seeing that middle school is a particularly critical time for minorities and young women,” says Kyle. “We want to work with these students at this formative stage, offering short, design hackathons at Duke throughout the academic year. We hope that this will be an entry point for younger students, giving the design opportunities in middle and high school that will motivate them to pursue STEM majors in college.”

The ODE Summer Design Camp will be held at Duke from June 19-July 20. Mondays through Thursdays, students will learn about biomedical engineering design concepts and use the design process to uncover a real-world biomedical problem. By the end of five weeks, students will have a finished prototype, which they’ll then present to their peers.

To ensure that this summer program has a lasting impact, Kyle says that middle and high school teachers from local schools are invited and encouraged to participate in the design camp, where they can learn how to teach engineering design to their students during the academic year. On Fridays, teachers can also participate in the specialized Summer Design Camp for Teachers, where the ODE program leaders will work with teachers to create design-centric instructional content that they can take back to their classrooms.

The three programs will all be held in the Duke Engineering Design POD on Duke’s campus, and the events are free for all participants. Teachers who wish to participate in the teaching design camp will also be paid for their participation and subsequent design lesson implementation.

Kyle hopes that the impact of these programs will extend far outside of Durham. Because ODE is primarily funded by an NIH Science Education Partnership Award, Kyle will use the different programs to answer research questions about how engineering design education can impact STEM learning, identity and persistence in underrepresented students.

“I want to use ODE to foster an engineering identity in students who may feel like engineering isn’t accessible to them, empower teachers to incorporate design projects and thinking into their STEM instruction, and hopefully create a cohort of teachers who can teach engineering design thinking to not only their students but to their peer teachers as well,” Kyle says. “These activities, and the research findings that arise from them, will improve the STEM educational ecosystem for middle and high school students and empower the next generation of engineers.”

Visit the ODE site to learn more about Outreach Design Education