NC State education experts are weeks away from launching a National Science Foundation-funded afterschool program at two Durham middle schools, but students’ ideas are already flowing.

Will the kids decide to build a wi-fi hotspot for the community after learning about electrical engineering and computer science? Put together a proposal to use surveillance drones for improved community safety, as one student has already suggested? Find an intriguing career option in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math?

By design, many of the choices will be in students’ hands during the three-year, $1 million project, which is dedicated to finding approaches that motivate middle schoolers’ literacy in electrical and computer engineering, says DeLeon Gray, assistant professor of educational psychology and principal investigator for the grant.

“We know that technical content won’t be as effective as it could be if students don’t care about what they’re learning,” says Gray, who studies motivation in adolescents. “We want to empower students to substantively contribute to the improvement of the social and physical conditions in which they live. It’s important for students to know why problem-solving, research, marketing and communication are important and to see connections not only with other subject areas but also in their daily lives.”

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