On any given day during the school year, you might find electrical and computer engineering professor Dr. Janet Lumpp walking students through instructions for building an electronic circuit board. At her direction, they carefully etch the circuit board, drill the holes and solder the components. When finished, the students have produced a fully-functioning circuit board. Standard electrical engineering stuff, you might think…until you get a closer look and discover that the students are actually 4th graders!
Dr. Lumpp’s “roadshows” are an integral part of KEEP (Kentucky Electronics Education Project), a venture she founded with her first National Science Foundation award. Through KEEP, Dr. Lumpp visits elementary, middle and high school classrooms, educating students about electricity and electronics through fun, hands-on projects. Moreover, she encourages teachers to give those subjects more attention in their science curricula and supplies them with ideas, tools and lesson plans to that end. “Teachers enjoy it but, of course, doing anything different or unfamiliar in the classroom is a challenge,” she says.
Leading teachers to place more emphasis on the physical sciences, such as physics and chemistry, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education as a whole, is Dr. Lumpp’s passion— a passion largely fueled by dissatisfaction with the existing science standards in physics, and particularly in the area of electricity. “The way electricity is currently taught, students only need to learn four terms: ‘open, closed, series, parallel’. Anything beyond that is deemed too complicated. Then, if you look at biology and life science classes, students learn all of the parts of the cell, interactions between cells and how all of the systems in the human body work. But my whole field is essentially reduced to ‘open, closed, series, parallel,’” she explains.
Dr. Lumpp hopes that the forthcoming Common Core national standards for science will stress the importance of electronics and electricity. “I’m anxiously awaiting the new standards, mainly because I want to see where I can help with implementing STEM education. Electricity is not an obscure concept that no one needs. We all depend on it and use electronic devices that we expect to work reliably,” she argues.” Yet we teach very little about it to younger students.”
Within the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Dr. Lumpp leads the Microelectronics Assembly Laboratory, assisted by R. J. Robinson and Charles Arvin. The lab is used for a class on microelectronic packaging and is also utilized by ECE senior design project teams. “I think the lab’s future is very strong, in part, because senior design has become a year-long endeavor, as opposed to a one semester project. I will offer my microelectronic packaging class again in the fall, and that will give team several months to build prototypes and improve them,” she says.
Whether it’s a 4th grader learning how to solder or a high school senior considering a career in engineering, Dr. Lumpp believes that the variety of options within electrical and computer engineering make it an attractive field of study. “With electrical engineering, you’re definitely not putting yourself in a box. There is incredible diversity: programming, biomedical, light, sound, signals, energy efficiency, and so on. Whatever your interest, there’s room for everybody.”