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What did you do last Saturday? These kids played with VR, lasers and built cellphone microscopes

A throng of L.A. middle and high school students flocked to USC Viterbi’s Epstein Family Engineering Plaza on Saturday, Feb. 25 for a day of hands-on activities, including everything from cellphone microscopes to virtual reality goggles. Engineering Exploratorium, or EngX, welcomed fifth through 12th graders to discover 10 immersive stations run by USC undergraduates, Ph.D. students and industry engineers.

“The goal of the event is to introduce as many middle and high school kids as possible to engineering,” said Associate Professor Andrea Armani, the event organizer and Fluor Early Career Chair in the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. “I wanted to hold an inclusive event, where everyone is welcome.”

A STUDENT TRIES AN OCULUS RIFT VR HEADSET FOR THE FIRST TIME. PHOTO/VALENTINA SUAREZ

EngX, which was sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and USC Viterbi, drew more than 1,000 students from around L.A. The event was the second major outreach effort Armani and her students designed and hosted. In October 2015, the Lasers 4 Ladies event welcomed hundreds of middle and high school girls to participate in immersive optics activities on USC’s campus.

“Recently, there’s been a surge in outreach events that leverage coding and robotics. While it’s fabulous, it can incorrectly represent the possibilities of STEM education,” Armani said. “It’s important to show students the range of opportunities.”

Lasers 4 Ladies was such a hit that Armani and her students launched EngX, expanding both their audience and capacity to host hundreds of additional schoolchildren. EngX wrapped up National Engineers Week, which ran from Feb. 19 to Feb. 25.
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