June 30, 2011

For seven days, minority high school students learned engineering principles, real-world engineering applications and gained insight into the life of an LSU engineering student through their participation in REHAMS, a pre-college, summer workshop hosted by the LSU College of Engineering (CoE) Office for Diversity Programs. 

Recruiting into Engineering High Ability Multi-Cultural Students (REHAMS) is the longest running minority, pre-college program in the CoE. It is designed to provide minority students an opportunity to explore various engineering disciplines including: chemical, petroleum, industrial, civil and electrical engineering. Professors and current engineering students present lectures and demonstrations throughout the week.

REHAMS also offers students a holistic take on college life. Twenty-nine sophomores and juniors from Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi resided on campus and interacted with current LSU engineering students throughout the week.

“We want to show these students the ins and outs of college engineering and give them the full college experience,” said chemical engineering junior, Briana Saul, a REHAMS counselor. “We’re honest with them about how to balance life and engineering, and we give them the confidence that they can be in engineering and still be normal students.”

Students completed team building and leadership challenges, as well as engineering design tasks. The chemical engineering demonstration was popular among participants. The students learned about polymers and used acid found in everyday nail polish to create a chemical reaction.

“Before I came here, I really didn’t know anything about engineering,” said Breanna Lee, a senior at Baton Rouge High School. “But after visiting the chemical engineering department, I’m sure this is what I want to do. It really interested me and reassured me.”

Deja Feist, a junior at West St. John High School in Edgard, La., was also excited to learn more about chemical engineering. Since attending XCITE, another CoE pre-college, minority program, in 2010 and REHAMS this year, she’s decided to combine her two passions: chemical engineering and veterinary medicine.

“This has been awesome. Now, I realize that both my interests can fit into one,” she said. “I had never thought about that before – making chemicals to help animals.”

To complement the program’s academic focus, REHAMS students also attend professional development lectures and industry mixers. Students learned presentation techniques, built a portfolio and joined engineering professionals from Fluor, Shell, Dow and Halliburton at an industry luncheon.

The participants also toured Georgia-Pacific, a global manufacturer and marketer of paper products and related chemicals. Students visited the company’s Baton Rouge plant and witnessed first-hand how tissue, paper towels and other pulp products are mass produced from start to finish.   

The Georgia-Pacific tour was Alvin Rattle’s favorite REHAMS activity. “I’ve always wondered how things work and why they function the way they function,” said Rattle, a junior at Baton Rouge High School. “So, it was cool seeing the entire process of the production of paper and seeing the engineers working at their computers.”

In 1977, the first REHAMS program was held at LSU. This was the beginning of a formal, concentrated effort to recruit and retain minority students by the CoE. Since then, the REHAMS program has provided pre-college students an opportunity to explore engineering through a holistic overview of the field by presenting both the academic structure and career possibilities.

“We are committed to enhancing and diversifying engineering students and professionals,” said Kelly Rusch, associate dean for research and diversity programs, CoE. “REHAMS is more than 30 years old and a part of the fabric of the College. The camp is strategically designed to stimulate students’ interest in engineering and immerse them in college life.”

“This is a really good program,” said chemical engineering junior, Marc Rios, a REHAMS counselor. “Engineering needs a good, multicultural, diverse background of students in it so the discipline is represented by other cultures and not just one overall.”

REHAMS counselor, Rashod Albert, hopes the program attracts more minority students to the engineering field. He wants to teach the students how to think and operate as engineers.

“We work to complete a task and solve problems,” said the mechanical engineering junior. “This is what we want the kids to learn. It might be hard, but it’s rewarding in the end.”

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 Article by Aariel Charbonnet, College of Engineering public relations graduate assistant, carcen6@lsu.edu



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