Outreach program introduces younger students to STEM possibilities

By Gabby Benedict, CEC Reporter

Miami University’s College of Engineering and Computing's K-12 Outreach Program gives tours to students from local schools, hosts outreach activities, and creates a fun learning environment for students who are interested in learning about STEM concepts and problem-solving.


Students in the Booker T. Washington YMCA program excitedly hold up Fred the gummy worm, who they have just saved with only four paper clips.

More than $46,000 dollars in grant funding and donations during the program's first year of operation helped reach more than 265 children since fall, with another 500 more students to participate in activities now through summer — and this all during the second year of the pandemic.

Joanna Hohn, assistant director of the K-12 Outreach Program, organizes and creates activities that focus on teaching simple engineering concepts. She gets help from 54 of the program’s student volunteers from Miami.

This month, the Outreach Program is hosting activities at Booker T. Washington YMCA in Hamilton every Wednesday. Hohn and various student volunteers come in to teach fourth through sixth graders about various STEM concepts, more specifically geared toward engineering and computing, and encourage the students to continue taking science classes as they move into middle school.

One of the volunteers, Brie Merritt, who is a first-year student, regularly assists Hohn in setting up the projects for students. She also helps instruct the students through the steps of every activity.

“Growing up, I didn’t have much experience with STEM projects in school, so the next best thing is bringing something I couldn’t have to these students and opening their eyes to a world of innovation and creativity. I highly recommend this program to anyone interested in STEM, whether a STEM major or not. It is an awesome opportunity to bring fun and engaging activities to underrepresented students in the field,” Merrit said.


Miami students volunteer to help in the K-12 outreach program. Brie Merritt enjoys introducing innovation and creativity to the children.

During the first week of the program, the students built bridges out of playing cards and tested out the concept of critical load. In the weeks following, students engaged in activities such as creating a cellphone stand out of Legos and saving a gummy worm named Fred by getting his life preserver out of his upside-down boat by only using four paper clips.

“I like seeing the pure joy in the student’s faces, seeing them just discover the joy of learning. You know, it's not stressful. It's not like they have to do this for a class to pass a test. It's just the joy of learning and discovery for fun and taking it to kids who don't have that opportunity,” Hohn said.

Since last fall, the outreach program has hosted a Big Brothers Big Sisters day, has organized for middle school and high school students to visit Miami’s campus, and will soon be hosting a mini FTC robotics scrimmage on Saturday, April 9.


Talawanda Middle School students visited the College of Engineering and Computing and met a new robotic friend.

The program recently received a $15,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation to provide summer programming at the Cincinnati recreation centers, as well as $16,335 from Procter & Gamble Higher Education Grants Program for technology tools and educational kits to support innovation, experiential learning and career development for both Miami students and local K-12 students.

The children at the camp will be using iPads and will be introduced to Lego robotics by using Lego Education SPIKE Prime, a simple hands-on approach to teaching about coding and robotics, which is all funded by Cincinnati Recreation Commission Youth to Work Program, Miami University College of Engineering and Computing, Procter & Gamble Higher Education Grants Program, Worldpay, and Duke Energy Foundation.

The program is currently finding ways to work with other departments and disciplines across campus to grow the program and to give more students the opportunity to learn and visit Miami to gain access to information that wasn’t available to them before.

Anyone interested in volunteering or reaching out to Hohn about the program can contact her email,