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Making it Real for Middle School Students through Science and Innovation

Where are great ideas related to science and innovation being brought to life for middle school students this summer? At VCU's da Vinci Works program. The da Vinci Works program is an innovation ecosystem where VCU students of various disciplines who have a passion to create come together to develop, test and execute their ideas. For six weeks, college students gather in a VCU studio workshop steeped in the tradition of Leonardo da Vinci, one of history's greatest innovators.

Affiliated with VCU's da Vinci Center, the Summer at da Vinci Works program focuses on the execution step of innovation. Dr. Russell Jamison, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Life Science Engineering and Dean Emeritus of the VCU School of Engineering leads the da Vinci Works program and tells his students that "innovation must have three things - a great idea, real value and successful execution." Jamison's goal for the program is to in inspire middle school students by teaching them about innovation, engineering and entrepreneurship.

Last summer I was impressed by one of the projects tackled by a group of students during the da Vinci Works program. Three VCU students – Shane Diller and Shruthi Muralidharan (both Biomedical engineers), and Osman Malik (Business and Finance) collaborated to teach a group of middle schools students how to develop an idea for a product, build a prototype, create a business plan and present their product to a group of investors and entrepreneurs. Check out this Science Matters video of “Think it. Make it. Sell it” and you will be amazed by what these students accomplished in just one week. I believe you will agree that this is an excellent example of how we can teach innovation and encourage cross disciplinary collaboration in our schools.

This summer, one of the da Vinci Works projects will be about Bioenergetics. Bioenergetics is one of the most important emerging issues of preventive medicine today because it brings together elements of energy transformation, aerobic exercise and active lifestyles, with the need for healthy food. The focus of this project is to increase awareness for improving nutrition and bioenergetics of young children and their families through the creation of engaging, educational modules.

"Bioenergetics: Arts meets Gentle Science in Sickness and in Health" is led by VCU faculty members Shilpa Iyer (Primary Project Leader), Chemical and Life Science Engineering. Sarah Faris (Secondary Project Leader), Communication Arts, School of Arts, and Raj Rao (Secondary Project Leader), Chemical and Life Science Engineering.

By assembling a hybrid team of VCU faculty and students from the Schools of Art and Engineering, this da Vinci Works project will move from STEM to STEAM (A for Art) to STEAM-H (Health) to communicate the public health concern of “Bioenergetics”. At the end of the project, the educational modules created will be displayed at the Science Museum of Virginia. This is the first time such "cell-to-society" interactive educational modules are being created for explaining bioenergetics to young children and their families. The project is funded by the VCU Quest Innovation Fund and by da Vinci Works through the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin, Jr. Engineering Education Endowment.

Check out the VCU Promo video produced to engage college students in the project and stay tuned to learn more about how they will engage middle school students in the study and application of Bioenergetics.

Click here for more information on VCU's da Vinci Works Program.