Inspiring future materials scientists: College hosts Foundry in a Box for Cedarburg High School

Foundry in a Box with Cedarburg HS

A recent high school visit to UWM’s Foundry exemplified how long-term planning and relationship building can deliver transformative experiences to teens. Foundry in a Box was a convergence of the College of Engineering & Applied Science’s materials science leadership, industry support, National Science Foundation funding and local school district preparedness – all working together to benefit Milwaukee-area students.

On Dec. 3, seven Cedarburg High School juniors visited the college for a Foundry in a Box demonstration. They met researchers, explored the Polymer Lab, made molds for casting, and heard from Dean Brett Peters and current UWM materials science students. Pradeep Rohatgi, State of Wisconsin and UWM Distinguished Professor of materials science & engineering, mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering, explained that the college offers a very strong scholarship program for foundry education—one of only 21 colleges and universities nationwide to provide foundry scholarships.

The Cedarburg students—all of whom are enrolled in an AP materials or chemistry course—created castings of star fish or their school logo. They were interested and surprised about one aspect of foundry work, said Chris Beimborn, UWM’s EnQuest coordinator and STEM outreach manager. “They were surprised to learn that the foundry process includes more chemistry than they may have thought,” she said.

UWM brings foundry education to Milwaukee high school students

To introduce foundry careers to Milwaukee-area students, Rohatgi worked with Beimborn and science teacher, Sowmya Desai, of Cedarburg High School, located 18 miles north of Milwaukee. The school has a highly rated STEM program and a materials science class due in part to the American Society for Materials (ASM) who provided the school with a curriculum for material science courses.

When working with high school students, Rohatgi, who is a leader in his field, is supported by an excellent team of researchers including Swaroop Behera, Kaustubh Rane and Omid Ghaderi, all of whom are earning graduate degrees.

Rohatgi has secured support from two national sources that nurture pre-college STEM education: an Overture Grant from the Foundry Education Foundation (FEF) and a Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Overture Grant is geared toward student education and is designed to help UWM encourage high school students and first year undecided college freshmen at the College of Engineering & Applied Science to study Materials Engineering, especially foundry and metal casting.  

NSF’s RET program is geared toward creating and nurturing relationships with K-14 educators to foster long-term collaborations between universities, community colleges, school districts and industry partners.

And the Cedarburg community supports STEM. In 2018 Cedarburg voters approved a referendum that funded a $59.8 million district-wide school facilities improvement program.  A New Tech Ed/STEAM/Art wing at the high school includes a Tech Ed classroom, Woods & Metals classroom, Tech Theater, and Transportation Lab among other improvements.

This multifaceted support has surely helped Cedarburg to be named a top STEM school in Wisconsin. In 2021 Newsweek ranked it as the #1 STEM school in Wisconsin and #157 in the nation, and STEM Forward awarded the school with a 2021 Excellence in STEM Education Award.

Rohatgi plans to distribute the Foundry in a Box program to more Milwaukee-area high schools. Interested schools can contact him for more information at prohatgi@uwm.edu.

About UWM’s Foundry Education Program  

UWM’s Foundry Education Foundation Program helps ensure great talent enters the profession and offers students—starting as soon as their freshman year—annual, renewable scholarships and industry connections. Each year, more than 50% of students in this program receive scholarships ranging from $500-$2,000; 200 have received FEF scholarships since 1996.

In addition, UWM Foundry hosts a large number of Support for Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) students and UR@UWM summer research for incoming freshmen who get paid hourly to participate in research.

High school students have also had the opportunity to work in Dr. Rohatgi’s lab, and two students even became co-authors on research papers published in peer-reviewed journals.

Graduates have consistently and readily found jobs in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the U.S. with companies including General Motors, Kohler, Signicast, Stainless Foundry, Tesla, and Waupaca Foundry. In addition to foundries, UWM engineering graduates have found jobs with high-tech companies including Boeing, GE Aviation, Intel, and Lockheed.