The global pandemic has been a huge burden for teachers around the country as they try to deliver a valuable education while maintaining a safe environment.

But the University of Utah’s College of Engineering has made some helpful changes in how its outreach team works with K-through-12 educators so teachers can continue to give valuable STEM lessons to its students.

One of the team’s most popular activities for schools is its Discover Engineering kiosks, 11 traveling displays for high schools that cover different engineering disciplines from biomedical engineering and construction engineering to the college’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering video game development program. Before the pandemic, outreach team members would bring the displays to interested schools and allow students to visit each kiosk for a hands-on activity with each discipline. But now, the team can present the activities and concepts virtually through Zoom.

College of Engineering Academic Program Coordinator Craig Clifford said this new, condensed version of Discover Engineering involves his team members introducing at least six of the kiosks and activities through Zoom. The 40-minute presentation includes videos, demonstrations of the hands-on experiments, and a question-and-answer period with students.

Depending on the school’s choice, the team can still deliver the kiosks to the school for an in-person session but with a limited number of students visiting the displays at once.

The outreach team has activity kits and lesson plans for teachers and students that cover a wide range of engineering projects, including artificial heart valves, prosthetic leg research, electronics, towers and bridges, wind turbines, and more.

Teachers can check out materials and activity kits for these lessons, and an outreach team member will deliver them to and from the school. Team members can also conduct the lesson themselves, either in person or through Zoom, and these presentations can even be used if there is a substitute teacher. After making pre-planned arrangements with the outreach coordinator, all the substitute has to do is start the Zoom session and the coordinator can teach the lesson.

“By doing these lessons with a substitute, it’s almost like the teacher is not losing the day in terms of the momentum of the course,” Clifford said. “We can offer this to any teacher who wants any engineering-related content.”

Local teachers who have used these activity kits and lesson plans with students have praised the materials, even if they were presented over Zoom.

“Students at Mount Jordan and Indian Hills middle schools could not get enough of the wind turbine project. No one wanted to leave at the end of class,” said Lisa Willis, Work Based Learning Facilitator at Jordan High School in Salt Lake County. “The event went so smoothly. Students were given a basic introduction to engineering, and from there they were able to create, test and get feedback from U of U staff – all done virtually.”

Outreach coordinators with the college are also available to help teachers with their own STEM-related lesson plans and can help produce content related to any field in engineering. “Teachers’ jobs are hard now, and we want to support them,” said April Vrtis-Curran, College of Engineering senior academic advisor. “Just because Covid is happening doesn’t mean the College of Engineering has gone away. We want to help take the burden off of them.”

This year’s Engineering Day, an annual outreach event when high school students normally are invited to come to campus to learn about engineering disciplines through lab tours and hands-on activities, will be held virtually on Saturday, November 21. Student registration for the event begins Monday, Oct. 26. Click here for more information and to register.

For more information about any of the outreach services available to educators, contact College of Engineering Academic Program Coordinator Craig Clifford at