Brynn Kasper is part of a team of students, including Brett Gunderson, Emma Koller and Brynn’s brother, Noah, who present engineering concepts to students in the afterschool STEM club at the Metro Deaf School in St. Paul. Now in its second year, the program has evolved from a four-session lesson on creative circuits to a longer series on different disciplines in engineering. The creative circuits series consisted of cumulative, two-hour lessons that covered topics like squishy circuits, e-textiles and snap-on LED bracelets. This year’s sessions are independent of one another, allowing children who miss a session to still effectively participate in the sessions they attend. Sessions cover topics such as civil engineering, aerospace engineering, software and computer engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering and material science.

“There is a different activity for each session,” Brynn explained. During the civil engineering unit, children had to create structures from toothpicks and gumdrops so that their constructions could hold weight. The aerospace unit allowed the children to create paper airplanes as well as paper rockets that blew off of straws.

Brynn’s road to her involvement with this project started at home. Two of her grandparents, both deaf, worked at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault, Minn. Her mother taught American Sign Language at a high school. When she got to St. Thomas, Brynn was fluent in ASL and tested out of the foreign language requirement. She didn’t want to let her signing skills get rusty, so she decided to pursue a minor in ASL though St. Catherine University. As a part of her classwork, she was required to volunteer for 15 hours in the community, which lead her to devote time at Metro Deaf School playing with the children.

When Brynn applied to work as a research assistant in Professor AnnMarie Thomas’ Playful Learning Lab, they explored how to use her major and minor together. “As we discussed her interests and background in ASL, I asked Brynn if she would be willing to collaborate on a way to bring engineering programs to local deaf students,” Thomas said. The students worked with Thomas to develop a curriculum. Last fall, Thomas and the three students presented a paper on their initial curriculum, “Creative Circuits With Deaf Students,” at the American Society for Engineering Education’s North Midwest Section conference.

Brynn’s work with the students at Metro Deaf School has added new terms to her knowledge of ASL. As she prepares to work with students, Brynn studies signs for engineering terms on YouTube and other sites on the Internet. Also, Brynn noted that a lot of the work with the kids is visual, allowing the team to use pictures, such as the shapes of buildings, to communicate with students. “We have posters for each of the different disciplines,” Brynn said.

Thomas is proud of what Brynn and her teammates are accomplishing. “Engineering is a crucial part of the world around us. It is so important to help as many people – young and old – understand how the world works,” she said. “Through programs like this, our students serve as mentors, teachers and role models to children who may not otherwise have opportunities to meet engineers and participate in engineering projects. This is exactly the sort of project that makes St. Thomas such a special place. Our students are incredibly well-rounded and committed to making the world a better place.”

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