FLINT, Michigan—Even down the hall, you can hear the low hum of commotion, a mix of laughter and conversation as a gaggle of high schoolers huddle in teams of two over lab tables.
The amalgam of plastic bottles, ping-pong balls, cardboard cylinders, and hot glue soon will be transformed into rockets. The real mission here is far bigger, though: It is to launch these young minds into the study of STEM fields and eventually into stratospheric career opportunities.
It is one of two immersive pre-college prep summer programs operated at Kettering University designed specifically to open up opportunities to students who often are underrepresented in engineering. The programs—AIM (Academically Interested Minds) and Lite (Lives Improve Through Engineering)—were started in 1984 and look to recruit students of color and women into science, technology, engineering, math, and business studies.
Chelsea Reeves is a senior at Kettering majoring in Industrial Engineering with minors in business and statistics. She first came to Kettering through the AIM program and now serves as a mentor for high-schoolers participating in the five-week program.
“No one in my family is an engineer, so the program opened that doorway for me,” Reeves said. Growing up in Southfield, Reeves knew early on that she wanted to work with her hands and had a special interest in math and science, “but I never had a chance or opportunity to really learn more about different fields until I joined AIM.”
A report released this year by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) showed that white men continue to hold a disproportionate number of jobs in science and engineering fields. The “2017 Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering” report showed ongoing underrepresentation in the field.
The Kettering University programs have become a national model for introducing more underrepresented students to STEM fields.
Back in the rocket lab Aaron Hopson, 17, of Avondale High School, and Eric Owens II, 16, of International Academy of Flint, hunker over a their rocket taking shape. “I got involved because of my high school counselor, he approached me in the halls on the last day of school,” Hopson says. “He said he liked my work ethic and told me about the program. Once I heard about all the networking opportunities and co-ops through the university, I got excited about AIM.”
He wants to study mechanical and architectural engineering—because he likes going fast—and explains that today they are learning about rockets and how to take into account their height, weight, and mass to get it properly airborne.
“Even if you’re not good at math, you should still check out the program,” Hopson says, “because there is a ton of fields within engineering itself, so if you don’t really like math you might discover you have a knack for design, or technology that can save or improve people’s lives.”
Reeves became a Kettering student because of AIM and after her freshman year immediately applied to become a mentor. The most rewarding part is giving back and seeing younger people get excited about math, science and engineering, she said. “They have a lot of questions,” she laughs, “but just getting to talk with kids about the different opportunities STEM has provided me. With AIM, it is a good way for people to understand subject areas and careers out there they might not be aware of.”
Reeves did a co-op working at Ford Motor Company and already is thankful for the opportunities her education is giving her and that she participated in AIM while still in high school. It proved her love of engineering and preparing her for college.
“The program is a very good way for minority students to be exposed to opportunities we wouldn’t have elsewhere, and to also learn how these opportunities can be so transformative,” she says. “AIM is very structured, but also provides the freshmen experience of being on campus and hands-on in the classroom. It’s crucial and there aren’t a lot of other programs out there like it.”