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The Michigan Engineering Zone Is Training Even More Makers and Engineers

MichEngZoneIt is so important to have someone to look up to when you’re deciding who you want to be when you grow up.

That’s why the next story is so special to us: High school students in the Detroit, Michigan area are opening their doors to younger students, helping to build their interest in science, technology, and engineering.

According to the Detroit News, an increasing number of students from Michigan’s most financially strapped urban school districts, including Detroit and Flint, are joining robotics teams! And, it’s all because local universities are making space and materials available at no charge. Students simply enjoy building things and if that curiosity and technical now-how can lead to a better shot at a university, how can we say no?

The University of Michigan, in fact, is the inspiration behind this new movement of makers. They set aside a 5,200-square-foot facility in Detroit, filled with two computer labs, a machine shop, robot testing area and collaborative workstations, hosts 18 teams from city schools. They call it the Michigan Engineering Zone (MEZ) and it is taking off with students.

You remember the “Supergirls” of Tulsa, Oklahoma from the White House Science Fair? Well, Papia Aziz, the team captain for the Pink Panthers from the Detroit International Academy for Young Women says that the MEZ is, “the greatest thing I’ve ever been to.” Aziz, a 16-year-old junior who wants to be a pediatrician, credits the MEZ with furthering her interest in STEM education. She said she enjoys “figuring out ways to solve a problem” and has fun competing.

The trick to getting kids interested has been the robotics program, but that’s not an end goal, says FIRST robotics in Michigan president Gail Alpert. “They think they’re doing robotics. They have no idea that the robot is just the vehicle to excite them about STEM.” She was also excited to add that nearly every student who competes in FIRST robotics graduates from high school, usually in a STEM related field.

But the best thing about the MEZ is that students are gaining access to role models in STEM careers, like professional engineers, to help guide them. Just having someone real to help teach you how to build robots or study engineering helps to take a lot of the abstraction out of STEM education and gives students someone that they can look up to in real life.

In the six years that the MEZ has been up and running, they’ve already reached capacity, with this year being the first that they’ve had to (unfortunately) turn teams away. But luckily, Jeanne Murabito, a University of Michigan College of Engineering official who helped create the MEZ, is already looking for more ways to fund the center so that they can invite more robotics teams next year. “It’s almost a miracle if you think about it,” she says.

Julian Pate, a retired Ford Motor Co. executive who runs the MEZ, has a different word for it, but the sentiment remains the same: “It’s like an infection. [Students are] bitten, and it doesn’t go away.” And we certainly hope that the MEZ doesn’t go away, and that the opportunities and role models that it provides help keep students on the path to a quality STEM career.

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