Black Families Technology Awareness Day

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Rensselaer hosted its 19th Black Families Technology Awareness Day on Saturday, March 16, 2019. The STEM program was designed to expose middle and high school students in grades 6-11, their families and educators to educational and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as well as the arts. The event was free and open to the public. This year’s theme was “STEM Solving Life’s Problems.”

The program kicked off with an opening ceremony in the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) Concert Hall. Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson delivered the opening remarks. Immediately following the ceremony, participants attended two sessions, and culminated with lunch. Click here to view our slide show from the 2019 event.  

Information on the 2020 event will be posted on this website soon. For more information, please email, or call 518-276-3098.


Program Details

2019 Session Descriptions

SESSION ONE - 10:15 - 11:00 a.m.


  • Building Cities (National Society of Black Engineers, for 6th – 11th grades)

The engineering design process – a series of steps that engineers follow to come up with a solution to a problem – is the common denominator of all the fields of engineering. Students will be introduced to the engineering design process civil engineers use in relation to building structures. They will learn about the role that a strong foundation plays and will design, build, and test their own structure to determine how much weight it will hold. Students will discuss possible improvements that could be made, what would happen if they built the structure taller, and what would happen if materials are limited!

  • Building Your Future with Alpha Phi Alpha" Gum Drop Bridge

Participants will have 25 minutes to design bridges one foot in length using gum drops and toothpicks. Upon completion, each bridge will be tested for strength. The test will be administered by elevating the bridge on a stack of text books, attaching a Styrofoam cup on the center of the bridge, and adding pennies to the cup until the bridge fails. The team with the strongest bridge will be awarded a prize.

  • Computer Science Unplugged  (presented by RPI Coding&&Community – for 9th - 11th  grades)

This workshop will begin with a short presentation introducing CS, exploring the difference between CS, programming and software engineering, and explaining what kinds of problems computer scientists solve. Following the short presentation, we will have three CS Unplugged Activities for the students to try out. These activities will help illustrate real world CS problems in an approachable way that involves problem solving and creative thinking. We will conclude the session by presenting different opportunities and resources that will help students to continue exploring computer science. Additional opportunities, resources, and activities will be printed in a booklet for students and parents to take home.

  • Curl Care Lab (presented by Rensselaer’s Culturally Situated Design Tools & the National Society of Black Engineers – for 9th – 11th grades)

This workshop will seek to inspire participants to become inventors and creators through the use of inexpensive do-it-yourself electronics. Participants will learn about the importance of pH in hair care products. Students will view a short presentation concerning pH and the effect of various hair care products on natural hair within the context of pH. Next, participants will be introduced to the Arduino Microcontroller and pH probe for do-it-yourself pH testing. They will calibrate the probe using specialized calibration liquids. Following calibration, participants will make their own natural product and then test the pH of that product. Finally, participants will test the pH of a selection of store-bought products with recognizable natural brands.

  • Equilibrium: The Importance of Balance in Science and Life  (presented by Rensselaer’s Science Ambassadors – for 6th -11th grades)

This presentation dives into the concept of equilibrium in a couple of its forms: chemical equilibrium and physical equilibrium. We explore what equilibrium is and how scientists and engineers can use the concept of equilibrium to solve problems. Once we've covered the basic of equilibrium, it's time for some hands-on activities so you can see how it works for yourself.

  • Heart Rate Sensors and Do-It-Yourself Electronics  (presented by Rensselaer’s Culturally Situated Design Tools & the National Society of Black Engineers – for 6th – 11th grades)

In this workshop, students will build a heart rate sensor and learn about how biofeedback systems moderate heart rate using negative feedback. They will learn about how a dance called La Bomba incorporates positive and negative feedback directly into the performance of the dance according to the drum rate. Participants will work in groups of two to construct the heart rate sensor using the Arduino Microcontroller and related supplies provided. Participants will then test out the sensor and record data.

  • Laser Technology (presented by Dr. Marshall Jones, GE Global Research Center - for 6th - 11th grades)

The workshop emphasizes the use of laser technology in industry, healthcare, art, and, in general, a laser show!  A laser technology presentation will involve a 3-minute video, a PowerPoint presentation, and low power laser demonstrations.

  • Modeling BuckyBall Molecules with African Hexastrip Weaves  (presented by Rensselaer’s Culturally Situated Design Tools & the National Society of Black Engineers – for 6th – 11th grades)

In this workshop, students will learn about hexagonal weaving patterns found in Africa and other indigenous cultures (e.g. India, Brazil, Malaysia, etc.) They will learn that the weaving technique can be used to model hexagonal patterns in large carbon molecules, and how to replicate the pattern using strips of paper. The workshop will be contextualized through chemistry and will inspire participants to learn more about the structure of these molecules. Participants will then create their own Bucky Balls with pre-printed strips of paper that they will need to cut out and tape together, forming the shape.

  • Neat and Nano (presented by the Center for Materials, Devices, and Integrated Systems - for 6th-11th grades)

Participants will be introduced to the length scale of nanotechnology and the importance of a cleanroom manufacturing environment. A hands-on demonstration will prepare transparent thin films and the group will study the film’s interaction with natural light. The program will culminate with a fun relay race to see which team can prepare to enter the world of nano the fastest.

    • Nuclear Powered Space Flight  (presented by Rensselaer’s Engineering Ambassadors – for 6th – 11th grades)

    Travel to other planets has up until recently only been possible in science fiction media; however, as technologies of the twenty-first century have improved, such a mission is now almost possible. This presentation will examine how different disciplines of engineering (aeronautical, nuclear, mechanical, and more) are needed to produce a complex product like a spacecraft.

    • Science of the Slam! (presented by 4th Family for 6th-8th grades)

    Did you know that science and math can help you become a better athlete? Many athletes use biomechanical analyses of their movements to improve shots, perfect swings, and determine the stress on their bones and joints! This program will compare the science and mechanics behind everyday activities such as walking and running, to athletic activities such as shooting a basketball, jumping for a rebound, or sliding on defense. Students will use the ‘vertical jump plate,’ shoot hoops, and record their performance statistics. They will then compare their stats to those of favorite athletes, while learning how analytics in musculoskeletal research is a growing STEM field.

    • Wind Energy  (presented by Rensselaer’s Engineering Ambassadors – for 6th – 11th grades)

    This presentation will introduce the importance of the development of alternative energies to reduce America’s traditional dependency on oil. Wind energy will be the focus of the presentation and the technology will be described. The presentation will then focus on the engineering designs of wind turbines. The hands-on activity will challenge the students to design and test wind turbine blades.


    SESSION TWO - 11:15 - noon

    • The Lives of Scientists and Engineers  (for 9th-11th grade students and parents)

    We often benefit from their ingenuity and their inventions but we seldom know the people behind sciences’ modern miracles. In this session hear from researchers, scientists and engineers about their lives and how they got to be the magicians behind our improved quality of life. They will talk about their motivation to pursue a career in STEM, their individual paths to earning a degree and making their passion for science and invention into viable career in industry or academe.

    • Preparing for College (for 9th-11th grade students and parents)

    College doesn’t have to be an impossible dream. With forethought and careful planning college and a STEM degree can be what catapults you into career in re-imagining the world. In this session, Rensselaer Faculty and administrators will share with you the key elements in preparing for college including setting goals in high-school; developing life and learning skills; evaluating college opportunities and finding the right fit; and financing the most important investment you can make.

    • STEM Careers (for 6th-8th grade students)

    Students will be introduced to a variety of current and future STEM careers in this interactive session led by RPI students!


    Program Goals

    “Our goal this year is to highlight how STEM is critical to finding solutions to all of life’s problems,” according to the co-chairs of this year’s BFTAD committee Jonathan Wexler, Vice President of Enrollment Management and Dr. Lee McElroy, Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics, at Rensselaer. We will do this by: 

    • Offering hands-on design workshops that will inspire students to become creators and inventors
    • Educating parents on preparing students for STEM education and careers
    • Providing a basic understanding of creativity of the mind
    • Showcasing Rensselaer's faculty so that participants will gain a basic understanding of the lives of scientists and engineers
    Register Now

    Registration for BFTAD 2019 is now closed. 

    Parking and Other Information

    PARKING: Free public parking will be available in the parking garage on College Avenue, between 8th Street and 15th Street. Follow the directional signs for parking lot entry.

    PROGRAM PARTICIPATION: Parents and Guardians: By permitting your child to attend and participate in this event:

    You understand that you are responsible for arranging transportation for the child to and from the event. You also understand that if your child does not behave appropriately and follow staff direction at all times, his/her participation in the event may be terminated at the sole discretion of the program staff, and you will be requested to immediately pick him/her up from the event for transportation home.

    MEDIA USE: You give RENSSELAER POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE, its legal representatives and assigns, and those acting with permission of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute or employees of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the right and permission to use, reuse, broadcast, publish, and distribute still photographs, motion pictures, digital media, videotapes and associated or independent audio recordings of your child participating in the event for any and all purposes, and you waive any right to inspect or approve such images and recordings prior to such publication and use.

    For more information, contact or call 518-276-3098.