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York College students help seed future engineers with Tech Tinker program

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The Tech Tinker program gives college students the opportunity to help local school pupils explore robotics, technology and basic engineering skills.

Central Pennsylvania students who imagine themselves shaping the future of science can do more than dream about it. They can explore their role in that future through the monthly Tech Tinker sessions sponsored by York College of Pennsylvania’s Engineering Department.

York College Engineering majors share their passion at the sessions and help run the Tech Tinker activities.

Dr. Jason Forsyth, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, arranges the free two-hour evening gatherings on the second Thursday of each month at the college’s Kinsley Engineering Center at the Northside Commons.

“We have faculty and students who help. It’s a fun atmosphere, exploring math and science,” he says. Tech Tinker is welcoming and never intimidating, he adds.

Seeding future engineers

A faculty member came up with the concept for Tech Tinker after recognizing that local students needed help with school science projects. It expanded to introduce those students to engineering and computing and allows them to explore future possibilities.

While Dr. Forsyth often sets up demonstrations using electrical kits, computers, 3-D printing, and drones, area students bring in Lego robotic sets, snap circuits, and projects that reflect their interests.

Most students are aged 10 to 14, but some are as young as 4 or 5.

“We try to seed them to be engineers,” Dr. Forsyth says.

Area students can take part in the sessions by signing up on the Tech Tinker page on Facebook.

Engineering student mentors

York College students help guide their younger counterparts at the sessions.

Writing computer code might sound dull, but Nate Cooper, a junior mechanical engineering student from Delaware, uses a program called “Code Combat” that makes it fun for Tech Tinker participants. To get their video game-type characters to do battle, the students have to write the code to start the action. Nate also writes programs for drone stunts performed at the sessions.

Nate says at York College he’s getting a good mix of hands-on work and classroom instruction. At a school with bigger classes, he notes, he would have had to wait longer to get as much real-world experience.

“I’ve known about York College since about eighth grade because my brother came here for Graphic Design,” he says. “I came here because of the small class structure and the co-op program.”

A creative setting

Kaitlyn Graf, a York-area sophomore majoring in Computer Engineering, helps participants at the Tech Tinker sessions find their true interest. She has run the “Code Combat” program and introduced students to Rube Goldberg-type fun challenges.

“They’re very creative about it,” she says of the students. “It’s very cool to see them get involved in it and what they’ve thought of.”

Kaitlyn entered college with no programming experience, though she had high school classes in computer-aided design as well as exposure to software and 3-D printing studies. Those sparked an interest in engineering, and she hopes that by exposing younger students to these concepts now, they can find themselves in innovative careers.

One-on-one attention

The Tech Tinker program, with faculty members and students such as Nate and Kaitlyn working individually with future scientists, is a microcosm of engineering studies at York College, which Dr. Forsyth says provide a hands-on experience in a small setting.

“You’re never in a classroom larger than 15 to 20 students,” he notes, adding that students know the faculty and faculty members know their students.

“The faculty wants to make sure the students are successful,” he says. “Every room is a lab. You’re going to build. You’re going to make things.” 

Learn more about YCP's Engineering and Computer Science department.