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NM PREP Academy at NMSU inspires middle, high school students through real-world STEM activities

Each June, the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University hosts two sessions of the NM PREP Academy to expose students from across the state to real-world applications of science, engineering, technology and math. Designed for middle and high school students, NM PREP brings students to campus to learn first-hand how to improve their problem-solving skills, polish their communication skills and work in teams to accomplish a given task.


Boys and girls stand outside and listen to two men explain how use survey equipment.
Since 1997, New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering has hosted the New Mexico Pre-freshmen Engineering Program. In June, students in the NM PREP Middle School Academy spent a day learning about survey engineering from David Acosta and his colleagues at Construction Surveying and Technology Integration. The students worked on activities such as staking, UAV flight, ground penetrating radar and virtual reality. (NMSU photo by Tiffany Acosta)

Throughout the two-week residential program, students lived on the NMSU campus and participated in a variety of activities that exposed them to various engineering career paths. As part of an innovative curriculum designed to encourage early interest in STEM, activities focused on structures, water quality, rocketry, robotics, engineering design, renewable energy, electronics and telecommunications, sustainable communities and surveying/geomatics. Through hands-on, project-based activities, students used problem solving to complete a variety of engineering activities.

“For us, the most important thing students took away from the NM PREP Academy was the confidence to tackle technical challenges through effective problem solving,” said Tony McClary, program specialist for outreach and recruitment for the College of Engineering. “NM PREP was designed to give students a glimpse of the different fields of engineering and experience first-hand what engineers do on a regular basis.”

While living in NMSU campus dorms, students got to experience a glimpse of life as an undergraduate student. Students worked among their peers to complete project-based learning activities, interacted directly with engineering faculty to identify innovative solutions to real-world problems, gained hands-on experience in problem solving and enhanced their communication skills. Throughout the program, participants were mentored by NMSU engineering undergraduate students.

“For many of our students, participating in NM PREP was the first time they had been away from home or on a university campus,” said McClary. “NM PREP not only exposes students to STEM-based skills, but it fosters leadership and communication skills, and builds self-confidence to step out of their comfort zones, all of which are important skills for future STEM professionals.”

In addition to NMSU engineering faculty, NMSU alumni from Construction Surveying and Technology Integration LLC volunteered to teach techniques used in construction and surveying technology, and a team of individuals from Raytheon were on hand to lead an activity on missiles and rockets. The CSTI activity was especially eye opening to many students who didn’t really understand the advanced technologies that survey/geomatics professionals worked with on a daily basis.

“We like to broaden the horizons of the students and give them enough information so they can look forward to a career in engineering,” said McClary. “Our partnerships with faculty and industry are at the core of the program’s success.”

The program is offered at no cost to students thanks to funding received from corporate sponsors. This year’s sponsors included Sandia National Laboratories, State Farm Insurance, Chevron, Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, the PNM Foundation and the Halliburton Foundation.