ECE professor helps fifth graders discover engineering

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By Bridget Maiellaro, ECE Illinois
June 18, 2008

  • Prof. Elyse Rosenbaum recently finished her first year teaching engineering to fifth grade students at Stratton Elementary School.
  • The introduction to engineering course is part of an NSF funded project to improve young student interest in engineering.
  • Rosenbaum chose to teach at Stratton because it is a Title 1 school, meaning that a majority of its students come from low income families.
Professor Elyse Rosenbaum works with fifth graders at Stratton Elementary School in Champaign. Rosenbaum sought to increase interest in engineering amongst the youngsters.
Professor Elyse Rosenbaum works with fifth graders at Stratton Elementary School in Champaign. Rosenbaum sought to increase interest in engineering amongst the youngsters.

ECE Professor Elyse Rosenbaum recently finished her first year teaching introductory engineering to fifth graders at Stratton Elementary School in Champaign, but she will not stop there. As a part of her National Science Foundation funded research project, Rosenbaum aims to improve local students’ interest in obtaining an engineering degree from a four year university.

“From my experience as a faculty member, I know that unless students take mathematics every year in high school, they’re not going to be eligible for direct entry into a college of engineering,” she said. “You need to talk to students about engineering before they get to high school, or it’s too late.”

Rosenbaum said one of the primary reasons she chose to teach at Stratton Elementary is because it is a Title 1 school. “In Title 1 schools, a majority of students are from low income families,” she said. “I want to expose them to career options they may not know about. Most don’t really know what engineers do, so it’s my job to teach them.”

The intended class size was 20 students, but far more fourth and fifth grade students at Stratton Elementary expressed interest in participating. The school’s enrichment specialist, Izona Burgess, created a questionnaire for students to complete. After discovering which students were most serious about the subject, and with the aid of teacher recommendations, 20 fifth grade students were selected to take Rosenbaum’s course, which focused on microelectronics, electromagnetic waves, static electricity, and how to search for information on the Internet.

Throughout the semester, the students were presented a variety of visual aids such as a cell phone, a printed circuit board, an integrated circuit, and a slinky. However, most of the demonstrations were hands on, allowing the fifth graders to build their own circuits; build their own networks using pipes, valves, and buckets of water; create static electricity with balloons; and construct their own Leyden jars.

In order to teach students in a way they understand, Rosenbaum had to look at the topics her group is working on, such as electrostatic discharge protection, and extract the basic underlying principles. If she felt students didn’t fully understand a concept, Rosenbaum provided them with supplemental information. In addition, students were given homework that was required to be completed in order for them to stay in the class. While Rosenbaum and her graduate students looked over the assignments for their own assessments, students’ grades did not appear on their report cards.

Rosenbaum said she created her lesson plan at the beginning of the academic year and stuck to it. She plans to revise the lesson plans for next year. Following the revisions, she will expand her program by making the lesson plans available to teachers throughout the Champaign School District. In 2009, Rosenbaum will also provide a workshop for local teachers, to teach them about microelectronics and to train them on using the materials developed by her team.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University in 1984 and master’s from Stanford University in 1985, Rosenbaum obtained her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1992. From 1984 to 1987, she served as a member of the technical staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories, in Holmdel, NewJersey. She joined the University of Illinois faculty in December 1992.

Over the years, Rosenbaum has earned various awards and honors including the Roger A. Haken Best Student Paper Award from the 1991 International Electron Devices Meeting, the Semiconductor Research Corporation Technical Excellence Award in 1991, a National Science Foundation Career Award in 1996, a University of Illinois Bliss Faculty Scholar Award in 2005, and an IBM Faculty Award in 2006.  In addition, Rosenbaum has made the Incomplete List of Teachers Rated as Excellent by Their Students four times.

Rosenbaum is an editor of IEEE Transactions on Device and Materials Reliability. Her research interests include design of high speed input/output circuits; modeling and simulation of electrostatic discharge protection circuits; and gate dielectric reliability, among others.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at or (217) 244-6376.

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