NFB Engineering Quotient (EQ) is the programmatic component of a grant from the National Science Foundation (Spatial Ability and Blind Engineering Research, award #1712887), NFB EQ was a one-week engineering program for thirty blind youth ages 14-22.
The program was held in the summers of 2018 and 2019. Together with project partners and volunteer blind adult mentors, these youth engaged in an intensive weeklong residential program focusing on the various phases of an engineering design project.
Central to the NFB EQ program, and all programs of the NFB, was the positive, affirming environment in which blind youth felt safe and free to learn nonvisually. It is critical for blind youth to experience spaces that normalize blind ways of knowing and doing, as opposed to spaces that either prioritize sighted techniques or sideline blind youth entirely. This is no less true for STEM learning environments. As with all scientists and engineers, blind participants in the NFB EQ program were expected to be active learners; they planned, designed, built, and tested through a hands-on, iterative process.
The curriculum for the week began with concurrent sessions, with an introduction to engineering explained by trained engineers from Utah State University; an introduction to drawing by an accomplished, professional tactile artist; and an overview of the engineering design project for the week. Parameters were set and brainstorming began in collaboration with project leaders and blind mentors.
Most days were focused on building on the lessons learned in the preceding days, with sessions becoming increasingly complex as students mastered the basics of drawing, engineering drafting, multi-view drawings, force propagation in a structure, and basic truss analysis. One afternoon the program visited a historic mill to explore real-world examples of post-and-beam structures—the basis for the engineering design project. Other sessions were devoted to discussions with blind engineers currently employed in a variety of industries to learn how they mastered their craft, what alternative techniques they use, and what obstacles they overcame and how. These experiences are vital for blind students to interact with real-life examples of blind people achieving success in STEM fields.
The result of the engineering design project for the week, entitled “A Place of Your Own,” were prototype representations of original structures created by each student. Participants not only constructed the prototypes but also investigated the forces in their design, from roof to footing, using simple static analysis techniques. On the final day of the program, the students presented these prototypes in an expo-style event to invited guests, NFB staff, and fellow students and instructors. Students also took home a portfolio that included the inspiration for their project, a narrative self-reflection, a design brief, their first initial tactile sketch, tactile floor plans and designs (including front elevation, side elevation, structural column plans), and calculations (including force propagation and truss analysis).
To learn more about NFB EQ, check out the following:
- NFB EQ: A Summer Program for Blind and Low-Vision Teens on YouTube
- A Place of One’s Own: The 2019 NFB EQ Program in Baltimore in the fall 2019 issue of Future Reflections