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Lyle School initiatives win Navy funding for STEM advocacy

Awards boost programs that cultivate early interest in science, technology, engineering, math

January 29, 2012

Students attending Visioneering 2010, presented by SMU's Lyle School of EngineeringDALLAS (SMU) – The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has named two programs within the SMU Lyle School’s Caruth Institute for Engineering Education to receive grants of $100,000 each for their initiatives that cultivate student interest and participation in science, technology, engineering and math – collectively known as STEM education.

The SMU Lyle School winners are Dianna McAtee, for her “Designing a STEM Advocacy Education Kit” for The Infinity Project, and Lindsey Groark, for her “STEM Advocacy Kit for STEM Web Portals,” which supports the Caruth Institute’s Kids Ahead web-based program.

The two SMU entries were among 12 winners chosen from more than 125 entries in the ONR’s Sponsoring Scholars in Science challenge, which is designed to help expand the pipeline of future scientists and engineers for the naval workforce.

"We are delighted that the Office of Naval Research has recognized two different programs within our institute as being important partners in the drive to create more scientists and engineers," said Delores Etter, director of the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education. "These awards will allow us to reach more students and educators than ever before."

The Infinity Project was developed in 1999 by the SMU Lyle School of Engineering and Texas Instruments in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation and others. The yearlong Infinity Project curriculum is being used by hundreds of middle schools, high schools, and colleges in 38 states and has impacted thousands of students - more than half of which have been women and minorities. The Infinity Project is aimed at closing the gap between the number of engineering graduates currently produced in the United States and the large need for high-quality engineering graduates in the near future.

The STEM Advocacy Education Kit for the Millennial Classroom funded by the ONR award will include professional development materials for practitioners and educators, curriculum and instructional text that can be incorporated into inquiry-based learning and enhanced exercises for individual and group activities. The kit also will include guided lesson plans and material lists for each activity and multimedia resources for those activities.

Activities are designed to spark the imagination of students through projects ranging from the construction of a functioning loud speaker to designing and building a prosthetic leg. Through hands-on experiments and general coursework, Infinity Project students see that the math and science they have been learning is applicable to real-world problems and a wide variety of STEM occupations.

Kids Ahead is a web-based resource for middle school children founded by Caruth Institute director Etter just over two years ago. Kids Ahead is designed to spark the interest and passion of middle school children by providing access to quality web-based content, activities, projects, events and information. Kids Ahead also seeks to provide parents, teachers, club leaders and STEM volunteers the resources they need to make STEM activities a central part of young people’s lives.

Kids Ahead activities are built around subjects like forensics, robotics and wind energy. For example, Kids Ahead activities teach young people how to make and play their own Pacman game, how to analyze and interpret a crime scene in “The Case of the Barefoot Burglar” and learn applications for alternative sources of energy in “PowerUp: The Game.”


The mission of the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education in SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering is to encourage more young people to consider engineering and science careers.  The Caruth Institute is focused on K-16 programs with a national impact such as Kids Ahead, The Infinity Project, Visioneering, the Gender Parity Initiative and The Lyle Engineering Summer Camps.  The Caruth Institute also is home to the SMU Skunk Works Program, which is designed to incorporate the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works design philosophy throughout the undergraduate program in order to teach our students to be more innovative.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.