WRITER: Tiffany Acosta
The Engineering New Mexico Resource Network in New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering partnered with the Las Cruces Public Schools EXCEL program to host five high school students during the fall 2016 semester. The EXCEL students spent the term working in the Aggie Innovation Space learning about innovation, entrepreneurship and the engineering design process.
NMSU’s Aggie Innovators mentored the EXCEL students, who worked on projects involving project management, 3-D printing, electronics and programming. The partnership began three years ago when Stuart Schemnitz, LCPS workplace learning specialist and EXCEL coordinator, approached NMSU about on-campus opportunities for students interested in engineering.
“We felt that an immersion in an environment like the Aggie Innovation Space would be an excellent opportunity for these prospective students to get hands-on experience in working on engineering projects,” said Patricia A. Sullivan, associate dean for outreach. “The experience would also provide prospective students insight into the life of an NMSU engineering student.”
At the Aggie Innovation Space, the EXCEL students utilized critical thinking, communication and time management skills as well as project-based learning in both real work and professional environments in team and individual settings. The EXCEL students were required to work 15 hours per week during the 18-week term.
The EXCEL students working at the Aggie Innovation Space this semester were Michael Contreras, Mayfield High School; Alec Gray, Centennial High School; and Savannah Lozoya, Guillermo Nuñez and Jayde Wamel, Las Cruces High School.
“Most importantly, they are supporting the development of self confidence and taking ownership of their learning. Students are allowed to work on a specific project of their own and are also learning how to use various engineering software, 3-D printers, and programmable development boards like Arduino,” Sullivan said. “We have already seen past EXCEL students enroll in NMSU engineering as a result of their positive experiences in the NMSU-LCPS program.”
“The role of near-peer mentors provides a tremendous opportunity to engage students in an inviting learning environment,” she said. “The NMSU engineering students serve as topical experts, and the ability to mentor high school students helps them refine their respective skills. The mentorship role also provides leadership and team building skills to NMSU students.”
Anthony Rendon, an Aggie Innovation mentor, said he was pleased with the EXCEL students’ capabilities.
“This semester we were able to include the EXCEL students as if they were actually Aggie Innovators. We gave them projects and deliverables from the clients that came into the Aggie Innovation Space and were greatly pleased in the outcome,” he said.
Rendon said the biggest challenge for the EXCEL students working at the Aggie Innovation Space is having a completed project by semester’s end.
“Often when they come in they are able to pick up a project or have an aspect of their life that they are passionate about and turn it into a very innovative project,” Rendon said. “But when trying to bring an ambitious idea or concept to life there are often a lot of setbacks, mistakes and originally unconsidered aspects. We are here to help them overcome these aspects of the creative process and ensure that anything they try and accomplish in the future will be with success.”