Clemson University, Duke Energy partner to bring mobile engineering lab to middle school students across South Carolina

Unique program will grow interest in high-tech career fields by engaging students with real-life math and science applications

CLEMSON, South Carolina – Clemson University and Duke Energy are hitting the road this summer behind the wheel of the Explore Mobile Lab, an innovative approach to educating middle school students across the Palmetto State about the critical and growing field of engineering.

This creative partnership between the university and Duke Energy is unique to South Carolina, and the program hopes to educate and engage young scientists and engineers who will be the future workforce for industries such as electric utilities that will need those skills to power communities in the 21st century.

The mobile STEM lab is the first of its kind at the university and was made possible by a $400,000 gift from Duke Energy.

“As Duke Energy and other utilities build the smart-thinking grid of the future, having great minds on our team who understand science, technology, engineering and mathematics will be critical to our success,” said Kodwo Ghartey-Tagoe, Duke Energy’s South Carolina state president. “Engineers will lead our efforts to build the smarter energy infrastructure necessary for our state. I cannot think of a better partner than Clemson University to work with on this project and I know our efforts together are going to raise interest in the field of engineering as a career for young students across our state.”

The Explore Mobile Lab was unveiled at a ceremony Thursday with leaders from Duke Energy, Clemson and the community alongside seventh- and eighth-grade students participating in the Project WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) summer camp on campus, which also is sponsored by Duke Energy.

The mobile lab will be managed by the university’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences. Student-focused activities will be aligned with state standards in science and math and designed to show students how the math and science they learn in the classroom applies to real life.

Brad Putman, the college’s associate dean for undergraduate studies, said the lab’s goal is to help fix the “leaky pipeline” between school and industry.

The drip tends to start in middle school, when the difficulty level rises and students start taking separate classes. That’s when some students start to peel away from the high-level math and science that are foundational to engineering.

“If we can bring some engineering students and faculty into the classroom, that will combine career day with project day in a whole new way,” Putman said. “You’re not just saying, ‘I’m an engineer, this is what I do.’ We’ll show you what we do.”

This initiative comes at a time when demand for engineers continues to increase as government and industry work to meet the needs of a growing global population. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, the field of engineering is expected to grow as much as 10 percent in the coming decade.

“This contribution will help plant the STEM seed for thousands of middle school students and help fill the pipeline with diverse, highly qualified talent,” said Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences. “Together, Clemson and Duke Energy are continuing to make a difference in many lives.”

The Explore Mobile Lab will be making its way to 159 middle schools across the state beginning this fall. School superintendents, principals and teachers who would like to learn more about the program or schedule a visit to their middle school can do so at the program’s website: cecas.clemson.edu/mobile-lab.