Logo: University of Southern California

NSF GK-12 'Body Engineering Los Angeles' Program Kicks Off at Viterbi School

Four Viterbi co-PIs will work with three graduate fellows developing new STEM resources in local schools

February 14, 2012 —

Three USC grad students will be starting an educational adventure under the auspices of a new National Science Foundation (NSF) program, Body Engineering Los Angeles (BE-LA), headquartered in the Viterbi School.

Mentors: (from left) Andrea Hodge, Krishna Nayak, Giselle Ragusa and Maja Matarić
Jay Mung, Tim Nayar and Dave Herman will be spending 15 hours – two days per week – in sixth & seventh grade science classrooms of local middle schools. They will start as "scientists in residence,” bringing their knowledge of how engineering and science works to the students as resources. Their mission: “Be a role model. Fuel curiosity.”

The trio won their fellowships in the competitive project by (among other tests) delivering 10 minute presentations on their respective specialties — ultrasound technology, musculo-skeletal materials modeling and neural environmental sensing, respectively — presented in a form and using a vocabulary that sixth grade students would be able to understand.

Mung and Nayar are Ph.D. candidates in the Viterbi School, Herman in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Krishna S. Nayak of the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering who is the Principal Investigator (PI) on the BE-LA project, was exhilarated by their presentations, which brought humor, graphics and clarity.

They are also directly relevant to the thrust of the project. The young scientists will be continuing their own research, (another requirement for participation was recommendation by their faculty advisors). After orientation and training, they will then develop course material based on their own research areas, with the idea of expanding the resources of the national effort to improve teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering Mathematics (STEM), particularly to students from groups underrepresented as scientists and

Body Engineering Los Angeles: Back row: Richard Shope, Luz Rivas, Ben Patapoff and Song Hwang (both Foshay teachers), Maja Matarić, Krishna Nayak, Andrea Hodge, Giselle Ragusa. Not shown: Foshay teacher Ingrid Moore. Front row: fellows Jay Mung, Dave Herman and Tim Nayar.

The LAUSD schools that will be involved, El Sereno, 32nd St, Foshay, Berendo, Hollenbeck and John Muir, share these demographics.

BE-LA will concentrate on the theme inherent in its title: the idea that the human body is a machine that can be studied, experimented upon, analyzed and (when necessary) repaired. The lesson plans that the "scientists in residence" fellows will develop will all involve measurement of human bodies.

By the end of November, the fellows will have completed a program of intensive training, working with specialists in education and meeting the school science teachers they will be working with in the upcoming spring semester, when the program begins.

Including Nayak, the program has four Viterbi co-PIs. Professor Andrea Hodge of the Department of Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering and Viterbi School Senior Associate Dean Maja Matarić will serve in the role along with Gisele Ragusa, who has appointments in both the Viterbi and Rossier School of Education. Additionally, Iridescent Learning, a STEM effort started by former Viterbi student Tara Chklovski that is now national, will also be participating, with Iridescent Director of Research Luz Rivas serving as a fifth co-PI.

BE-LA is part of the NSF Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) program: Learn More > www.gk12.org

Jay Mung, student of Jesse Yen, (biomedical engineering), Viterbi School of Engineering: "In the summer of 1999, I was 16, a rising high school senior, and a part of a cohort of minority students selected as part of the NASA Summer High School Apprenticeship. I refer to that time fondly as "Nerd Camp." Our cohort mentor  was not content with merely a hands-off approach towards teaching us. When we were not in the research lab, he led a series of conversations with us that forced us to think critically about why we were participating in the program. This was the formative experience that shaped my then nascent world-view.
Dave Herman, student of Tansu Celikel, (neurobiology), Dornsife College of Letters Arts & Sciences: "Every teacher was once a student, and it was as a student that the passion to teach is usually born. I was in middle school when I first saw the importance and power of teaching at an intensive summer math program. It was here that I found my passion for the sciences. And it was here that I saw how dramatically teachers could affect one's life.
Tim Nayar, student of Jim Weiland (biomedical engineering) and Andrea Hodge (chemical engineering), Viterbi School of Engineering:  "I have found the ability to clearly communicate complex ideas into a series of simpler steps to be an invaluable asset in the lab and to others who are unfamiliar with my work. Whether it was through a more structured setting as a teaching assistant handling laboratory lectures focused on the development of medical devices or volunteering at a local high school to teach at-risk students about the sensory systems in the brain, I have worked diligently to tailor my communication style to the environment around me.