College of Engineering joins with Rhode Island National Guard to give high school students a look at STEM in action

Local students try marine robotics, wearable sensors and more at fall STEM Innovation Day

KINGSTON, R.I. – Oct. 10, 2023 – From 3D pens to underwater vehicles, a range of exhibits and opportunities enticed hundreds of local high schoolers to get a taste of STEM education at a recent open house for Rhode Island high school students interested in science, technology and math.

The recent event at Quonset Air National Guard Base in North Kingstown showcased a partnership between the Rhode Island National Guard and URI’s College of Engineering to introduce young people to opportunities in the STEM fields.

Hundreds of students from Cranston East and other local high schools enjoyed learning about STEM education at the event. (photo courtesy Rhode Island National Guard)

It attracted 500 high school students and 100 college students from across the state. Seventy College of Engineering faculty, staff and students presented 16 engaging hands-on exhibits, joining additional exhibitors such as NASA, Space Force, and the Civil Air Patrol.

“The possibilities for students to make a positive impact on society through a career in STEM were on full display,” says College of Engineering Dean Anthony Marchese, “from building submarines and aircraft that protect our national security, to using autonomous vehicles that can disable explosives or explore the ocean depths. As the public, land-grant research university for the state of Rhode Island, it is our mission to provide access to these opportunities for all citizens with the will and desire to succeed.”

Governor Dan McKee enjoyed trying his hand in a boat building challenge; shown with Caleb Hines ’23.

Governor Dan McKee also attended. He was more than happy to be a student for a day, and visited URI’s exhibits to try out small “penny” boats and to build and test his own aluminum foil boat—appropriate for the governor of the Ocean State. Not only were the activities educational, they were fun, McKee noted in his remarks.

What can STEM do?

Faculty tailored their presentations to high schoolers’ interests. Chemical Engineering Professor Otto Gregory, director of URI’s Sensors and Surface Technology Partnership, oversees several research programs in thermoelectrics, harvesting energy for aviation applications with companies Raytheon and Pratt & Whitney. He went for a playful approach to showcase the topic for high schoolers. “We thought that a game of Jeopardy powered by thermoelectric generators would make the connection to the high school students,” he says.

High school visitors also experienced the ways that engineering research improves lives, trying on wearable gloves with sensors that could someday assist individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

Sigrid Berka, executive director of URI’s International Engineering Program, attended with URI’s French IEP ambassador Jelanie Pool. They spent the day talking to high school seniors about their interests in STEM, as well as languages and going abroad. About 20 students signed up to receive more information about URI’s International Engineering Program, through which students can combine a major in an engineering discipline with a major in a foreign language and go abroad for a whole year studying and interning at companies in Europe, Asia or Latin America.

The program drew 12 local colleges and universities in total, with the largest presence from URI. The day ended with presentations of the Rhode Island National Guard Rhody Innovator Awards, recognizing students who have excelled in STEM areas in the classroom.

Associate Dean Mayrai Gindy says that events like these are critical for exposing young adults to STEM careers and the impact the field has on people’s day-to-day lives.

Ellen Reynolds, vice president for student affairs, agreed. “The day really showcased the diversity of projects students and faculty in URI’s College of Engineering are doing. Based on the demonstrations presented by URI, I am confident the experience ignited interest in some of the attendees to want to pursue STEM majors in college in the coming years.”

“We are so proud to be able to host an event that provokes students to think about how they can have an impact on the future, through innovation, while exploring both military and civilian pathways. We are looking forward to our next event,” says 1st Lt. Patricia Testa, lead coordinator for the National Guard (and associate athletic director in URI Athletics).

Next year’s event will be on Sept. 20, 2024. Contact Gindy ( or Testa ( to learn more.