School of Engineering Partnering with Museum of Arts and Sciences to Develop Innovative STE+AM Programming


MACON – Mercer University School of Engineering and Macon's Museum of Arts and Sciences (MAS) have recently begun a partnership to provide new arts-infused science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STE+AM) programming for Central Georgia students from pre-K through fifth grade.

MAS served an estimated 26,000 students last academic year through onsite and offsite educational programs. Many of these local students are underperforming in math and science, and the museum is seeking to develop and deliver innovative STE+AM programming for the region.

Toward this goal, MAS is seeking to use objects from its permanent collection to teach science and math curriculum. The collection includes thousands of fine works of art acquired over 55-plus years, including paintings by Matisse, Miro, Picasso and Whistler, glasswork by Tiffany and Chihuly, a significant representation of Georgia folk pottery and contemporary ceramics, and cultural artifacts.

Mercer engineering students enrolled in sections of TCO 341: Technical Communication this year have been working to develop 45-minute lesson plans for grades K-2 and/or 3-5 based on one of several types of art objects in the permanent collection. A few examples include a large-scale glazed, ceramic sculpture; a kinetic sculpture; a rearticulated fossil; an etching; an encaustic painting; and a glass-blown three-dimensional work or vessel.

The lessons must explore science, technology, engineering and math concepts present in the process of creating the artwork, incorporate a hands-on activity and include an educational take-home handout.

“Engineers are scholars in STEM-related fields, so it only seemed natural that they could inspire our local elementary students to grow to love these fields, too,” said Dr. Jennifer Goode, instructor of technical communication, who coordinated the collaboration with MAS. “This project allows teams of engineers the opportunity to design interactive STEM-related lessons and submit them for consideration to our client, the museum's executive director. In doing so, they must craft a carefully constructed, well-written proposal to explain their ideas to the client. The students are passionate about the subject matter, excited about the service component and motivated by the competitive nature of the project – it's a win-win-win for everyone.”

A bidder's conference was held April 1 so that Susan Welsh, executive director of MAS, could introduce the museum as the client, share the scope of the project and provide details about the implementation of the proposed projects. Teams of students prepared detailed questions to get a better idea of the client's preferences and requirements.

Teams spent the next six weeks reviewing their artifact, designing lesson plans, prototyping hands-on activities and writing a comprehensive proposal to the museum showcasing their ideas as a solution to the museum's need for a portable instructional STE+AM unit. The students received funding from the University's Research that Reaches Out Quality Enhancement Plan for a portion of this work.

MAS has offered all of the students the opportunity to help in the piloting of each project and participating as an ongoing volunteers for the delivery of these projects and other initiatives.

“It's been fascinating for us to see the artwork from these new perspectives, as the engineering students have revealed unique qualities in several objects of art that an artist might overlook,” said Welsh. “Because the partnership has an immediate real-world application, the students are fully committed and extremely enthusiastic about developing engaging lessons and meaningful activities that our curators can use in the museum.”

Each year, about 180 students take TCO 341, which is required for all students earning a bachelor's degree from the School of Engineering. The course is designed to familiarize students with the forms and conventions of technical documents, including resumes, letters, memos, reports, instructions proposals and oral presentations.

“Mercer's Department of Technical Communication has a long tradition of service to the community through class projects,” said Dr. Helen Grady, professor and chair of technical communication. “Several other technical communication classes are also involved in Research that Reaches Out initiatives.”

About the School of Engineering

Mercer University's School of Engineering, founded in 1985, offers innovative and academically challenging programs that provide students with a comprehensive education, featuring a solid foundation in mathematics and sciences, a core engineering curriculum, a range of courses in engineering specialties and a strong emphasis on communication technologies. The School is consistently ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top three master's-degree-level engineering schools in the Southeast. Known for its breadth of instruction in its undergraduate program and its five-year joint bachelor's and master's degree program, the School combines technical education with hands-on laboratory experience. Mercer engineers can look forward to joining fellow alumni in companies such as Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, Lockheed Martin, Georgia Power, Siemens and Gulfstream Aerospace.

Kyle is senior director of media relations at Mercer. In addition to being the primary media contact for most academic and administrative units of the university, he serves as editor of the Mercerian alumni magazine and News@Mercer e-newsletters, and he coordinates hometown and university news releases.