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NovaCANE Adapts STEM Outreach to Virtual Format

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Since its inception in 2009, NovaCANE (Villanova Community Action by New Engineers) has sent Villanova engineering students into the classrooms of local sixth through eighth graders where they teach STEM lessons and guide students through hands-on experiments. This fall, given COVID restrictions, lessons took place virtually and were limited to two schools—CCATE (Centro de Cultura Arte Trabajo y Educacion) and SS. Colman-John Neumann.

Students at both schools learned about structural engineering—the forces that keep buildings, bridges and domes standing—and renewable energy. For the structural engineering activity, they were challenged to build a tower with gumdrops and toothpicks. The renewable energy lesson involved creating a straw pinwheel to visualize wind energy.

With nearly one Villanova volunteer for each middle school student, there was sufficient support for the participants, though the virtual format proved challenging. Rebekah Turner ‘22, a Mechanical Engineering and French major, led one of the lessons and noted, “Very rarely do they turn on their video, which is fine, but it does make it harder to engage and help if they are stuck.”

This spring, NovaCANE hopes to expand its work to two additional schools and provide three or four lessons for each. In the meantime, co-president Tony Colarusso says, “We are working on a website where we will post our materials and recorded presentations so that more schools can use NovaCANE resources.”