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'Engineering Ambassadors' spend day with local middle schoolers

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Albany/HV: 'Engineering Ambassadors' spend day with local middle schoolers
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Before starting their careers, engineers go through years of training and schooling. That's why, as YNN's Matt Hunter reports, one local school district is giving its students an early start.

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. – "You are now in charge of radioactive skittles,” said Michelle Cruz, while addressing a room of hungry eighth grade students. “They are still edible, you can still eat them."

Radioactive candy is a rare find on your average middle school cafeteria menu, but it was served up Wednesday in Ballston Spa science classes.

Throughout the day, sixth, seventh and eighth graders got a crash course in science, technology, math and engineering with the help of RPI's Engineering Ambassadors program.

Through hands-on activities, the college students applied advanced principles to middle school coursework.

"A problem we find is that people think engineering is too far beyond their capability,” said Michelle Decepia, a junior at RPI. “But we show them that it's directly relatable to what they're doing."

The topics varied from class to class. A sixth grade classroom that focused on biomedical engineering used popsicle sticks to replicate a human joint.

"We're practically working on a finger that you move like that," explained student Zachary Labaff.

Up the hall, a group of eighth graders tested radioactivity levels of different materials with a Geiger machine.

"It will actually start showing that there's radiation being detected," demonstrated Joe Baca, one of the ambassadors.

Certainly a break in the routine from the students' regular studies, the activities are designed to interest them in a possible engineering career at a young age.

"You all worked together in teams and that's really what engineers do," said Nico Rappoli, after the sixth grade students presented their “fingers” to the class.

"We can go with the concept of ‘grow our own’ and have them go to school here, stay here and have those opportunities for employability here," said Diane Irwin, the school district’s K-12 science coordinator.

Still far too young to drive, the youngsters have plenty of time to map out their future, but with the possibilities laid out in front of them, it's a safe bet at least a few are hooked.

"It's cool,” seventh grader Alex Klein said. “Because now I kind of want to be an engineer and do electrical circuits and stuff."

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