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Departments building cross-disciplinary connection

Weather Balloon preparation
Students support a weather balloon as it is filled prior to take off in one of the first projects in what is likely the beginning of a continuous collaboration between Joe Covert and Dr. Markus Hitz. The balloon travelled to Greenwood, South Carolina, and may have recorded an extreme case of a weather event known as a July Loop during its journey.

Engineering students and science education students at the University of North Georgia (UNG) are learning and benefiting from cross-disciplinary projects developed by two faculty members. The projects include building devices to record atmospheric and weather data and launching them on a weather balloon from the university's Dahlonega Campus.

Dr. Markus Hitz, acting head of the Mike Cottrell College of Business's Department of Computer Science and Information Technology, and Joe Covert, lecturer of science education for the College of Education, are collaborating to give students a more comprehensive experience through practical application of their disciplines.

"This has given me a new way of looking at science," said Mackenzie Abernathy, one of Covert's students. "We have had successes that were really exciting and we have had some setbacks, but the setbacks have helped me realize everything does not always go according to plan, and you have to be creative and improvise to find a way to work through it. I want to get my future students to enjoy science, and these projects have proven to me that having hands on activities means so much more than just regurgitating facts out of a textbook."

Balloon shot
A camera on the balloon captures the students watching as it takes off.

Covert explained that the cross-disciplinary nature makes the projects more effective in providing useful experience to the students.

"We are trying to get them science content that they can teach and to be comfortable with it; projects like this add another layer to that with the engineering crossover," Covert said. "Freshmen and sophomores are struggling with applied science because of a lack of experience, and this presents a unique opportunity to bring engineering into the fold."

The idea was driven by a set of proposed national, state-created education standards designed to address major advances in science and technology that older standards do not encompass. Georgia was a lead state partner in developing the Next-Generation Science Standards, and the University System of Georgia is a partner organization.

"This summer, during my embedded systems course, my students elected to help with three of Joe's projects," Hitz said. "One group built a self-contained lab experiment where a Raspberry Pi computer had temperature and humidity sensors attached along with readouts, which was used during the weather balloon project. We also built a rain gauge from scratch using a 3-D printer. This gives my students great context and experience in a sort of client interface setting, as they must work closely with the science education students to get all the specifications."

Covert and Hitz are also working to develop a project that will help integrate engineering into a K-12 setting. The project will include using handheld data collection units built from Raspberry Pi computers, the first of which was developed by Jennifer Lindley, a student in one of Hitz' classes. They hope to eventually introduce this technology to local schools.

"We want to put this in a ready-to-use format so teachers can implement it without too much of a challenge," Hitz said. "We also want to make it user-friendly and approachable for young students and other outside sources. Our goal is to give learners greater context, and opportunities to work more on math and engineering-based projects."

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