Ninety pre-teens came together to build model wind turbines for this year’s Middle School Engineering Challenge Weekend, all while smiling with newfound friends. The teams of students gelled quickly as if they were best friends, even though many of them had only met a few hours beforehand.
The event is hosted by The Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences (SMILE) Program, which helps underrepresented students learn more about the “STEM” subjects—science, technology, engineering and math.
Students can join the program as early as fourth grade and continue through high school.
The SMILE program was established in 1994 with 20 middle school students from one school. More than 2,000 students have participated in URI SMILE in the past 19 years. Today, the program serves about 400 elementary, middle, and high school students from six school districts throughout the state. Since 1998, 145 SMILE alumni have enrolled at URI—75 of whom are current students—and more than 70 percent of them have pursued STEM majors.
“I think one of the most rewarding aspects is, for kids who are in SMILE one year or more, every one of them graduates from high school,” said Carol Englander, founder and director of The SMILE Program in Rhode Island.
The program incorporates professional and University mentors to help support younger students and teach them about future career paths. One of these students is Jimmy Li, who is studying electrical engineering and Chinese at URI. The West Warwick, R.I. resident participated in the SMILE program during all four years of high school, and when he enrolled at URI, began mentoring middle and high school students in the program. He recently started Collegiate SMILE, a student organization on campus that encourages SMILE alumni from elementary, middle and high schools to continue the program at URI.
This year’s challenge weekend kicked off March 1 in URI’s Memorial Union ballroom. It hosted students from Central Falls, Pawtucket, South Kingstown, West Warwick and Woonsocket.
This press release was written by Danielle Sanda, an intern in URI’s Department of Marketing and Communications and a public relations major.