Skip Rochefort interests kids in engineering by showing them that it is fun and exciting.
When Skip Rochefort arrives at work each day, he’s ready to have fun–and maybe play a part in making the world a better place.
“All the best students want to save the world,” says Rochefort, associate professor of chemical engineering and director of OSU’s Precollege Programs. “So we want to recruit these kids to study engineering here at Oregon State.”
He plays his role in this with creative programs that make engineering exciting, interesting, and extremely hands-on. He hooks students when they’re young and believe in dreams. He keeps them engaged.
Rochefort seems perfect for inspiring young minds. He’s a bit of a kid at heart and loves what he does. His desk is cluttered with Silly Putty, a “grow shark” gel toy, Gumby and Pokey bendable toys, the absorbent polymer from baby diapers, a foam “cheese head” hat, and a mix of other “hands-on learning tools” that any kid would find irresistible. To local school students, he is known fondly and simply as “Dr. Skip.”
His main research interest, polymer science, offers a highly effective connection to children. Every kid likes to make goop or gel, he says. “We can talk about Silly Putty and Jell-O, and they get excited about chemical engineering.”
His programs come with cool names and acronyms like SESEY, SKIES, E-Camp, AWSEM, and LEGO Robotics Camp. How can kids resist? The Summer Experience in Science and Engineering for Youth (SESEY) is a one-week summer research program for high school girls and ethnic minorities co-directed by Rochefort, Chemical Engineering professor Michelle Bothwell, and graduate student Jason Hower. SKIES stands for Spirited Kids in Engineering and Science, an 11-week summer camp for K-8th graders in collaboration with KidSpirit, directed by Karen Swanger.
E-Camp is an engineering camp for middle school kids that Rochefort established with Ellen Ford of Saturday Academy. At LEGO Robotics Camp, middle schoolers learn engineering concepts using LEGOs, in a course developed and taught by Chemical Engineering colleague Keith Levien.
Advocates for Women in Science, Engineering, and Math (AWSEM) is an awesome experience that connects middle school girls with women role models.
“Every day I can go home and say I’ve had some influence,” he says. “My motto is, ‘do what you like and like what you do.’ Nothing else matters.”