Fourth Annual Young Engineers Conference and Award Ceremony
Bracha Miriam Turner
On May 16th and 18th, the JCC in West L.A. hosted the fourth annual West Coast CIJE Young Engineers Conference and award ceremony for participating schools. The Center for Initiative in Jewish Education (CIJE) is a nonprofit organization that provides academic support in the form of science enrichment and funding for participating schools. In addition to training educators, the program provides a rigorous supplementary curriculum in engineering and coding. The two-year program focuses on teaching high school students the basics of electrical and mechanical engineering, coding and design.
While in some high schools the program is mandatory, at others it is an elective. Twelve schools participated this year in the West Coast division, amongst the 220 participating Jewish schools in the nation, with the numbers increasing annually. Rabbi Peikes of Torah High in San Diego, an all-girls school, was pleased with his decision participate. “We let the girls find their own voice and interests,” he said.
Yvette Edidin of Edidin Partners, a graduate from University Of Pennsylvania in systems engineering and the keynote speaker at the girls’ conference, noted that studies have shown girls are more likely to enter the field of engineering if they find relevancy in it. The program jumpstarts this process.
Jason Cury, President of the Board of Directors, projects that the program provides students with marketable job skills that are relevant to a competitive job force. He observed that on the East Coast there were several families who moved their children from public school into Jewish high school just because of the engineering program, even though the students needed supplementary tutoring to catch up in Judaic studies.
The focus of the curriculum is to design a product with potential societal benefit and test it so they can learn by trial and error. The program’s national director, Dr. Jane Willoughby, emphasized the importance of giving students the independence to resolve their own setbacks and find creative solutions. When they overcome these “mistakes” themselves – instead of waiting for teachers to “rescue” them – and prevail, real learning happens.
The students each displayed microprocessor boards. The final stage of the program requires the students to also comprehend and practice with 3D modeling language. The students worked in small groups and competed against their classmates. A panel of science-related judges awarded top projects for innovation, presentation, team building, societal value, most outstanding engineering, and relevancy to the market.
Amongst the participating girls schools were YULA Girls, Valley Torah Girls, Torah High of San Diego and Meira Academy of Palo Alto. Amongst the participating boys and co-ed schools were YULA Boys, Valley Torah Boys, De Toledo from West Hills, Harkham-Gaon Academy, Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok, and Tarbut V’Torah (Irvine), Northwest Yeshiva (Seattle), San Diego Jewish Academy, Southern California Yeshiva High, and Yavne Academy of Dallas.
The students provided innovative solutions for carseat safety, braille literacy, lifestyle reminders for those suffering from dementia, and preventing falling asleep behind the wheel.
Meital Shafigi from Valley Torah, “Working on this project with my team widened our imagination and brought us to the realization that failure should not be feared, but rather seen as a place for improvement.” The students’ successes generated confidence in their identity as young engineers.