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October 20, 2010

Smith College Professor Launches New Curriculum
To Get Students Into Engineering Pipeline Early

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – A Smith College faculty member widely recognized for his teaching will be in Washington, D.C., this week to launch a new educational initiative for middle school students aimed at igniting their interest in engineering.

Associate Professor of Engineering Glenn Ellis will unveil “Talk to Me,” an online curriculum, at the USA Science and Engineering Festival on the National Mall Oct. 23 and 24. The online tool features a young adult novel in which the fictional characters learn about engineering concepts while solving a mystery.

With funding from the National Science Foundation and the Longobardo-Wyckoff Engineering Fund at Smith, Ellis collaborated with faculty at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) and teachers in the Springfield Public Schools to pilot the Web site in July. The Springfield teachers who tested the site will begin using it in their classes this year.

1“Imaginative education was chosen as the strategy for the Web site because of the research showing its effectiveness in both engaging learners and supporting deep learning,” said Ellis. “We will have a booth at the festival where children can explore the Web site and talk to authors and educational designers.”

Ellis developed the curriculum with Beth McGinnis-Cavanaugh, assistant professor at STCC. The pair sought the input of Smith students, including junior Lucy McAuliffe, who plans to pursue a publishing career, and first-year student Isabel Huff and sophomore Jennifer Holliday, who have started a blog about their engineering education experiences and will be interacting with the student users that way.

The project’s online novel tells the story of 14-year-old Sadina Reyes, who is fighting the clock to keep her mother from being arrested for a crime she didn’t commit. Sadina thinks her sister, Maddie, has information that could prove their mother is innocent. But, Maddie can’t talk. She has selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that makes it impossible for her to talk about what she’s seen. With the help of her best friend Rio, Sadina searches desperately for a way to help her sister communicate.

“Along the way she learns about brainstorming, respect, teamwork, and communication—all elements of the engineering design process that middle school teachers can tie into their curricula,” said Ellis.

In 2007, Ellis was honored with a Professor of the Year Award from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE)—the only national award for excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.

Ellis has also been honored with teaching awards from Smith College and from Clarkson University, where he previously taught.

Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. One of the largest women’s colleges in the United States, Smith enrolls 2,800 students from nearly every state and 62 other countries.



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Kristen Cole
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