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Middle schoolers immersed in electrical engineering

Marcia Torrico (center), a PhD candidate in electrical engineering, shows Paige Denman (left) from Kenmore Middle School, and Eve DiCarlo (right) from Veronica E. Connor Middle School in Grand Island, the basics of electrical engineering. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CORY NEALON

Published April 28, 2016

Mention electrical engineering to a teenager — or most adults, for that matter — and chances are you’ll see a blank face.

But that changes if you shift the talk to lasers, smartphones, driverless cars and satellites.

“These are some of the cool things we do in electrical engineering,” Stella Batalama, professor and chair of UB’s electrical engineering department, told 20 or so middle school students. “We are dependent upon you to move these technologies forward.”

The students, who were the first of dozens to visit Davis Hall on Monday, were then whisked off to nearby laboratories where they learned the basics of unmanned aerial vehicles, GPS and electrical switchboards.

At one station, PhD candidate Marcia Torrico demonstrated how sonar works. With the click of a switch, sounds rang out of a receiver. “It sounds like little dolphins communicating to each other,” Torrico said. The students cracked smiles and asked to try it themselves.

The middle school students are part of UB’s Gifted Math Program, which was founded in 1979. Each year it enrolls up to 275 middle and high school students from throughout Western New York.

Students come to UB to learn twice a week, spending 2 ½ hours each visit. The instruction they receive here fulfills their math requirements. Harry O’Malley, associate director of the program, said such events are crucial because they show the real-world applications of the lessons the students learn in the classroom.