Logo: University of Southern California

Pie Tossing, Jousting and 'DiscoverE' Cap E-Week Activities

February 25, 2008 — Viterbi School engineering students wowed hundreds of local middle school kids with their charm, smarts and creatively designed scientific experiments during a new E-Week community outreach program, called DiscoverE, held Feb. 22 in the engineering quad.
Anthony Zanotti, left, a junior AME major, jousts with Andrew Nier, right, a senior AME major.

The middle school outreach program capped a week of fun, games, and professional networking for USC engineering students celebrating national E-Week. The students participated in a round-robin of science and technology-related activities designed to pique their interest in engineering.

The new event was the result of months of planning by members of the Viterbi Student Council, who decided as far back as last summer that they wanted to expand the scope of E-Week events, said Stacey Schwartz, chair of the Viterbi Student Council and a senior in industrial and systems engineering. Normally, activities include very popular competitions, like “Human Battleship,” the “Professor Pie Toss” and “Jousting,” but this year the students wanted something new.

"We decided on a community outreach event,” said Schwartz, because that would embrace the intentions of National E-Week, but also take the Viterbi School’s effort a step further.

“The whole goal of National E-Week is to promote engineering, science and technology to people who are not engineers,” Schwartz said. “Basically we wanted to make sure we had a large philanthropic focus.” 

Ming Hsieh Department Professor Mark Redekopp gets a pie in the face.

E-Week, which stands for National Engineers Week, is celebrated nationwide every February, during the week of George Washington’s birthday, to cast a spotlight on the engineering profession and give student engineers a chance to network with their peers, faculty, engineering professionals and the community. The event was launched in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers, and each year it reaches thousands of schools, businesses and community groups across the United States. 

USC’s annual festival was orchestrated by the Viterbi School Undergraduate Student Council. But it took an added effort to design this year’s USC DiscoverE. Students met with Viterbi School’s outreach coordinator and pre-college programs director Larry Lim to design activities for the day, including scientific experiments, educational presentations and lunch for more than 300 participating students.

Stacey Schwartz, right, chair of the Viterbi Student Council, organized this year's event.

The students, accompanied by their teachers, were broken into groups and led by Viterbi School undergraduate engineering students on a USC adventure. They participated in a variety of engineering-related games, got a ringside seat to an animated physics presentation by Prof. Gene Bickers, and joined in a lively Q&A session with Viterbi students on what engineering school is like.

“Everyone was just so interactive with everyone,” said Schwartz. “The students were so interested in asking a zillion questions.”

Students from Prairie Vista Junior High School in Hawthorne were quite clear on their favorite part of the day: it was making “liquid nitrogen ice cream,” which was actually just regular ice cream that had been frozen using liquid nitrogen. Not only was the ice cream display “cool,” the eighth graders said, it tasted great! 

E-Week 25
Middle school kids joined E-Week activities on campus during a new outreach day, called DiscoverE.

But other students were drawn to the experiments, such as an experiment to isolate DNA from strawberries.

“You had to mash a strawberry…it was water and salt and alcohol,” said one attentive girl, adding that when mixed, the substance became whitish. She didn’t elaborate on how the mixture isolated DNA.

Schwartz said the feedback from students, teachers and Viterbi School participants was “awesome.”

“I was surprised at how stoked the students were, right from the minute they got here,” she said. “It was great.”
Other E-Week events included a career fair, date auction, outdoor Nintendo Wii competition and industry dinner seminar. Many events were sponsored by the local chapters of such organizations as the National Society of Black Engineers and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. 

For more photos of E-Week, visit the Photo Gallery.