Logo: University of Southern California

It takes a village to educate a child

The USC Viterbi STEM Spotlight on the Department of Biomedical Engineering illuminates STEM subjects for local middle and high school students.
BY: Breanne Grady
November 03, 2016 —
Middle school students get a hands-on lesson in catheter assembly at the USC Viterbi STEM Spotlight on the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Photo courtesy of Viterbi Staff.

Even the unusual rainy Los Angeles weather couldn’t dampen the spirits of over 300 local middle and high school students at the USC Viterbi STEM Spotlight on the Department of Biomedical Engineering held October 28.

Bused in from four Los Angeles area schools, students took in a full day of campus and lab tours, interactive demos, activity stations and learning workshops hosted by USC Viterbi faculty and students.

Participating schools included Willowbrook, Enterprise, and Roosevelt Middle Schools in Compton and McBride High School in Long Beach.

The semi-annual event was produced by the Viterbi Adopt-a-School and Adopt-a-Teacher (VAST) program, in conjunction with the USC Viterbi Department of Biomedical Engineering, the USC student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and the student-founded mentorship program Motivate and Empower.

“USC Viterbi’s Spotlight series aims to give students a vision of where their STEM studies might take them,” noted Dr. Katie Mills, manager of USC Viterbi’s VAST K-12 STEM outreach program. “Many students have an idea they want to help people, but that general goal starts to take shape when they visit several different engineering research labs and speak with faculty and USC students. Our visitors saw researchers fighting cancer, inventing drug delivery devices for newborn babies’ brains, growing heart cells outside of the body, and much more."

USC Viterbi VAST K-12 STEM Outreach Manager Katie Mills (third from right) poses with student volunteers. Photo courtesy of Viterbi Staff.

For a hands-on approach to biomedical engineering concepts, the activity stations taught lessons in a range of subjects from “Catheter Assembly” and “Biomechanics of a Soccer Kick” to “Breaking Bones” and “Detecting Concussion.”

One learning module, called “Project-in-a-Box," even walked the students through a process to create an analog prosthetic arm for a hypothetical patient. 

“Basically, it’s a program where we bring small but easy and fun engineering projects to elementary schools to gain both awareness and interest in engineering as a discipline,” said Daniel Yin, Viterbi sophomore and executive board member for ASBME. “The prosthetic arm project is meant to give them a taste of what it’s like to go through a design process a how a biomedical engineer would approach these situations.”

Inside the USC Viterbi Downey Research Center, the “3D Printing Creation Station” hummed along with students getting a tactile experience in 3D-printed biomedical objects. Students could hold and explore models of vertebrae, a skull and even a three-part heart with connecting valves.

“We’re basically just demonstrating how 3D printing can be useful in biomedical applications such as casting or eventually maybe printing tissues,” said Joycelyn Yip, a Ph.D student in USC Viterbi's Laboratory for Living Systems Engineering. “I just want to introduce the technology of additive manufacturing to middle school kids to get them interested in developing their own designs and to rapid-prototype their own concepts.”

In her mathematical model workshop, USC Viterbi Gabilan Assistant Professor Stacey Finley taught the students how they can use math to explain what is going on around them, including the spread of infectious disease.

In a hands-on probability exercise, each student rolled dice, and if the number rolled added up to 4, that student became “infected.” Through five rounds of rolling, the number of faux-infected, not to mention excited, students shot up and then decreased to represent a “recovered” population.

USC Viterbi Assistant Professor Stacey Finley explains a line graph to Willowbrook Middle School students after an exercise to show the spread of an infectious disease. Photo courtesy of Viterbi Staff.

To conclude the lesson, Finley advised the students on the importance of enjoying numbers and doing their math homework. “Math is literally everywhere,” said Finley. “Don’t shy away from using math.”

On the whole, the day’s work prompted some reflection by all involved on the importance of USC Viterbi STEM outreach to the local community.  

“Hopefully, we’re exposing the students to STEM, especially the girls; that’s the new push,” said Roosevelt Middle School teacher Karen Kennedy. “Maybe some of the girls will get motivated to study the sciences and math more and maybe end up coming here and helping to continue with the research one day.”

Yip also expressed the greater importance of the event: “It’s a great way to be a part of my community—to reach out and expose all the kids around our area to engineering and science in general, regardless of their gender or their race,” said Yip. “I think it’s a great way to reach out and establish USC as a teaching school, and something that’s not just a little bubble in LA, but as a part of LA, too.”

To aid student enrichment, the USC Viterbi STEM Spotlight website provides valuable educational tools for both students and teachers.

"The new awareness makes their STEM coursework more important to [the students]," said Mills. "Our Spotlight website gives their teachers resources for building on this visit.”

For more information on VAST’s STEM Spotlight on the USC Viterbi Department of Biomedical Engineering, please visit this website.

To view pictures of the event, please check out our Flickr album!