Westfield State University’s Junior Discover Program Engages Local High School Students with Innovative Activities

Jun 13, 2024
Grace Templeton of the RIDE Center during the Junior Discover program, an initiative that allows schools in the Springfield and Holyoke school systems to experience campus life. They are working on a project at the RIDE Center, and several students sit around her at their desk.

Grace Templeton, Coordinator for the University's RIDE Center, with several students as part of the Junior Discover program.

This spring, Westfield State Universitys Office of Admissions successfully secured funding from the Presidential Innovation Fund to support the Junior Discover Westfield program throughout the Spring 2024 semester. This initiative offers local high school  an opportunity to experience  University life.  

This year, five schools from Springfield and Holyoke, including Duggan Academy, Central High School, Putnam Technical Academy, High School of Science & Technology, and Holyoke High School, participated in the program. These schools were chosen to help generate interest among rising seniors, many of whom are diverse, first-generation college students the opportunity to navigate the college process.

As part of the program, the Universitys Admissions team reached out to Dr. Lamis Jarvinen, Executive Director of the Research, Innovation, Design, and Entrepreneurial Center (RIDE), to engage students in innovative activities and  offer insight into the creative spirit higher education offers outside of the classroom.

In response, Dr. Jarvinen designed a challenge where students imagined themselves in apocalyptic scenarios with poor air quality and a national power grid failure. Their task was then to solve these imagined crises by collaborating with each other and building nebulizers using tools provided in the RIDE Center.

If successful, they were further challenged to adapt their designs to support multiple users by regulating air pressure. This hands-on experience imparted the importance of understanding medical device mechanics as applied to  underdeveloped regions with limited access to healthcare and reliable electricity.

Additionally, real-world application was embedded within each of their tasks. Throughout the day, students learned that the challenge they faced represented real-world scenarios in many underdeveloped countries. Understanding the mechanics behind essential medical instruments like nebulizers can empower individuals to create devices such as these in the future, ensuring their safety and that of their communities when professional help is not readily available.

The event was a resounding success, showcasing the students' ingenuity and problem-solving skills. Dr. Jarvinen remarked that many participants had never seen a nebulizer before, yet 86 percent of the 81 participating students were able to construct a working device by the end of the session. A post-activity survey also revealed that 90 percent of students felt their time in the RIDE Center positively changed their perceptions of college and increased their interest in attending Westfield State University.

Dr. Jarvinen was highly impressed with the studentscreativity and expressed her excitement for future collaborations. I really enjoyed meeting and working with the various high school students and their teachers. I have started the process of encouraging them to create their own Invent Teams in their high schools,” she commented. There is so much talent and so many good ideas, and I am hoping to support and cultivate these in the RIDE Center to help more students learn to prototype, design, and bring their ideas to market.”

Ultimately, the Junior Discover Westfield program not only provides a glimpse into university life but also opens students' eyes to the possibilities within technology, hands-on innovation, and entrepreneurship. The RIDE Center in particular offers a unique opportunity for students from various disciplines to engage in design, prototyping, and concept development, which is typically reserved for those who major in the STEM fields. This preemptive exposure is invaluable for students who may have never considered these fields as accessible or relevant to their interests.

With the success of this year's program, plans are already in motion to expand and enhance future iterations. The University aims to include even more schools and introduce additional innovative activities that cater to a broader range of interests. By continuing to support and invest in programs like Junior Discover Westfield, Westfield State University reaffirms its dedication to creating an inclusive and dynamic learning environment for all students.