Ten Years of Dedicated Advancements in Rising 9th Through 12th Graders


Fenglian Pan

The Department of Systems & Industrial Engineering, University of Arizona


Jian Liu 

The Department of Systems & Industrial Engineering, University of Arizona


Young-Jun Son

School of Industrial Engineering Purdue University


Ricardo Valerdi 

The Department of Systems & Industrial Engineering, University of Arizona

Over the past 10 years, the Department of Systems and Indus- trial Engineering (SIE) at the UA has been committed to promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) education with high school students in Arizona, leveraging the SEA program as a pathway to achieve their goal.

One of the primary efforts has been made to connect high school students with professors by providing in-person work- shops on engineering-related topics, such as Operation Re- search, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Modeling and Simulation, and Energy Sustainability. The objective was to provide these young minds with a holistic introduction to engineering majors and careers. Also, the students get to learn major methods (optimization, AI, modeling and simulation, techno-economic analysis) and various applications and research opportunities in each discipline (e.g. Systems and Industrial Engineering).

Another effort has been made by SIE graduate students to feature in-person formatting and virtual camps that bring high school students projects, activities, presentations, and real-life experiences from engineering disciplines (featured in Figure 5). To allow students gain experience in practical, interdisciplinary research, SIE graduate students cooperated with Statistics and Data Science Graduate Interdisciplinary Program graduate students to develop a series of hands-on activities (featured in Figure 6), such as:

  • Travelling Salesman Game which was designed to stimulate students’ interest and involvement in the field of industrial engineering. Students who participated in this game can experience the process of problem-solving, logistics, and decision-making, mirroring real-world scenarios. It serves as an illustrative tool to vividly demonstrate the complexities of engineering problems, promoting a hands-on learning experience and enhancing comprehension of the subject matter.
  • Soda Game which was designed to simulate a supply chain in industry. In this game, each student within a group played a role in a simulated supply chain, such as manufacturer, distributor, wholesaler, and retailer. Their goal was to fulfill customer demand while minimizing inventory costs. By playing the game, students could understand how small changes in customer demand, along with de- lays and miscommunication, can lead to significant fluctuations in inventory levels and order quantities throughout the supply chain.

Such age-appropriate lectures, hands-on activities, and within- group discussions motivated students’ curiosity and made them more engaged.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic required schools around the world to shift to remote learning, presenting unprecedented challenges in organizing K-12 outreach programs. In this con- text, the SIE Department at the UA rose to the challenge and created virtual and hybrid outreach programs. As the high school curriculum provides limited exposure to Data Science and Statistical Analysis to high school students in the era of AI, the SIE Department modified its program to reach an emerging need for students and organized a virtual camp to introduce AI-related topics to students. Specifically, the summer work- shops started with an introduction to AI, followed by examples of AI in daily life (e.g., Siri, Alexa) and hands-on activities that al- low students to experiment with AI concepts, such as Building Your Own Neural Network by Well-developed Playground, Image Recognition & Generation Using AI, and Composing Music Using AI. The workshops also covered topics in AI Ethics and Values. These collaborative efforts have significantly increased the exposure of research activities at UA to high school students and attracted more talented students to the engineering school and related STEM disciplines.

In addition to introducing professional knowledge to high school students, the SIE Department continues to engage minority and female students and teachers in programs to promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in STEM education. For example, they designed di- verse education formats (e.g., virtual, in-person, hybrid, offline resource) to improve equitable access to education resources for students who might not have easy access to such experiences. To promote female students’ interest in STEM fields and encourage women to pursue engineering careers, they involve school programs and workshops to create a supportive environment for Women in Engineering discussion (featured in Figure 7), highlighting the achievements of women in engineering and advocating broader participation in research.

Ten years of dedicated advancements in rising 9th through 12th graders have offered them valuable experience in embracing the following challenges and opportunities in this area.

  • Challenge 1: Engagement and Evolving Curriculum. It is challenging to attract and maintain students’ interest in STEM topics and ensure they are engaged throughout the whole program. This might be attributed to the lack of real-world relatable examples available in the K-12 curriculum. A potential way to address this challenge is to collaborate with teachers in K -12 schools to develop an age-appropriate and culturally-responsive curriculum to ensure that programs remain relevant and attractive. An appetizing survey can serve as another method.
  • Challenge2: Equitable Access to Learning Opportunities. Involving a diverse range of students, including those from underserved communities and with varying abilities, in K-12 outreach programs is challenging. For example, students in underserved communities, including rural areas and economically disadvantaged neighbor- hoods, are more likely to face challenges in accessing educational resources. Collaborating with schools and local governments to seek funding and grants for students who have limited educational accessibility is helpful. Another method is to develop diverse educational modalities, such as virtual/in-person/hybrid camps and offline learning re- sources for students.
  • Challenge3: Remote Learning: Outreach programs have faced numerous challenges in transitioning in-person pro- grams to virtual or hybrid programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, modifying hands-on or interactive activities to suit virtual programs can be challenging. In addition, the loss of social and in-person interaction results in isolated feelings and decreased motivation among students. In this context, additional support and care are needed. On the other hand, the transformed education format provides an opportunity to reach a wider pool of students through online and virtual platforms, expanding the geographic impact of outreach programs.

Figure 5: Introduction of a Shop Floor Control Demo


Figure 6: Interdisciplinary Activity in Engineering and Statistics


Figure 7: Women in Engineering

Acknowledgements: We extend our gratitude to the SEA program and the Department of Systems and Industrial Engineering at the University of Arizona for their invaluable support in making these efforts possible. We also thank the dedicated SIE graduate students—Yinwei Zhang, Shenghao Xia, Yifei Yuan, Haomiao Yang, Jiali Han, Ehsani Sina, and Ahmadi Mohammad—for their significant contributions to the SEA program. Additionally, we appreciate Harsh Anand for his time and insightful feedback on this article. Photo credit goes to Kenny Eliason for the header photo and Shubham Sharan for the footer photo.