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High school students explore engineering with new Fridays @ Northeast program

High school students explore engineering with new Fridays @ Northeast program

NORFOLK, NE - Fridays will be Maker Fridays for a group of students participating in the Fridays @ Northeast pre-engineering program on the Norfolk and South Sioux City campuses of Northeast Community College this fall.

Fridays @ Northeast allows high school seniors to spend the final day of the school week on campus as college students. Classes offered through the program introduce the students to a variety of career and technical education program areas. Last fall, approximately 70 seniors from 16 high schools were enrolled in its various programs.

Introduction to Engineering Design introduces students to the engineering profession, engineering problem solving and engineering design with an emphasis on current topics. While Introduction to Engineering Design has been taught at Northeast in the past, this fall’s class is a redesigned course that incorporates the College’s new maker spaces at the Norfolk and South Sioux City campuses that were outfitted through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

Dave Heidt, Northeast chemistry/physics instructor, said that maker spaces are found in corporate, public and educational settings. They can take many forms and can cover an array of areas, including woodworking, robotics, biochemistry and biological research.

During Maker Fridays, the Fridays @ Northeast students will have the opportunity to learn basic woodworking with hand and power tools; electrical concepts through paper circuits, wire-wrapped circuits and soldering their own circuits; computer aided drafting (CAD); 3-D printing; and computer numerical control (CNC) machine operation. Thanks to NSF funding, the maker space area will be staffed by lab assistant and available to students for additional, optional time on Saturdays to continue work on their projects.

Heidt said students in the maker spaces will be able to work on projects that most interest them, and this open-ended approach can be particularly helpful to students new to engineering.

“If you have a student who isn’t certain about engineering, they can come in and get a taste of it. With the hands-on activities, they can realize: ‘Oh. Instead of doing the designing with this, I’d actually like to work with that.’ You also might have a student whose relative is an engineer, so they know all about one type of engineering. You might have other students who like the idea of doing designs, but they aren’t really certain what type of engineering to pursue.”

Heidt said Maker Fridays can also be a confidence boost for students unsure about studying engineering at all.

“Sometimes we get a student who didn’t necessarily take as much math or science as they could have in high school, so they say ‘I’m just not smart enough’ or ‘I’m not confident enough,’ but they take the class and realize, ‘I can do this.’”

Additionally, Heidt said the maker spaces will be assisted by a number of industry professionals throughout the semester to give students an opportunity to interact with engineers who work in the “real world.”

“The industry professionals will have a chance to talk about what they do as an engineer and what the companies do, to make students realize there are many career opportunities in their area.”

The project is funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Early-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) award that supports untested but potentially transformative research ideas or approaches.

Northeast’s project was one of 54 selected for full proposal submission and was one of 18 projects nationwide to receive the grant funding designated to advance Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) learning and design thinking through maker spaces and practices.

Heidt will collaborate with a University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) education researcher, Dr. Michelle Howell Smith, to determine best practices that attract and retain rural and underrepresented high school students in engineering fields.

Corinne Morris, dean of agriculture, math and science, said Maker Fridays is specifically targeted at students who may not typically pursue a career in engineering.

“With an ever-increasing need for workers in the STEM field, we have a responsibility to provide young people with the opportunity to build their skills and confidence in these areas. Engineers are needed in every realm of business and society to solve problems and spark innovation.”

“It only stands to reason that recruiting members from underrepresented populations brings forth new possibilities for solving issues and strengthening our economy. Maker spaces are a practical way to engage the ingenuity and creativity of individuals who may not have otherwise considered themselves to be capable of success in a STEM-related field.”

Heidt said the Fridays @ Northeast course and its maker space component gives students a solid foundation in basic skills they may need in their engineering classes once they begin college.

“If they get to a (college) course where they have to make prototypes, they’ve experienced some of the manufacturing processes and tools before they have to actually perform in that course. So they’ll be coming in with a little extra background.”

Fridays @ Northeast students will gain dual credit for completing the course, earning high school credit in addition to college credit, per approval of their high school. The college credit transfers directly into a program of study.

Northeast’s pre-engineering program provides students with a robust engineering background. The College has an articulation agreement with South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSM&T). Students complete an associate of science degree at Northeast and transfer most of those credits to SDSM&T to complete the bachelor of science degree in one of its colleges of engineering. Additionally, Northeast has collaborated with UNL to develop four courses that are taught by Northeast as part of an initiative for students interested in transferring to UNL.

To learn more about Fridays @ Northeast, go online to or contact Makala Williams, director of early college, at (402) 844-7118 or

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1723704. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.




Dave Heidt, Northeast Community College chemistry/physics instructor, displays a sign created with a desktop computer numerical control (CNC) machine in the new maker space on Northeast’s Norfolk campus recently. The space, as well as an additional area on Northeast’s South Sioux City extended campus, will be available to students participating in the Fridays @ Northeast pre-engineering program this fall. (Courtesy Northeast Community College)