UA Little Rock instructor leads project to develop STEM education tool

Ben Rainwater

Ben Rainwater, instructor of systems engineering with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, will lead a project at Brown Engineers to create a water engineering computer simulation for students in grades six through 12. 

Brown Engineers, an electrical engineering consulting firm in Little Rock, was awarded a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation. The simulation will be used to promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education across the state.

“We envision students would go through a guided simulation and then a game where the students are asked to solve a problem or respond to a crisis,” Rainwater said. “For example, the students could be asked to bring a central water line to a town. They would use math, science, and engineering principles to build a functioning water plant. It would be a rich environment to teach the students.”

Rainwater, electrical design engineer at Brown Engineers, will serve as the project’s principal investigator, while his co-worker, Sam Vandiver, lead technologist, will be the lead technical advisor.

“The project is intended to teach students about water engineering and career education,” Rainwater said. “We want to translate engineering practice to engineering education to teach students how to apply the concepts they are learning in the classroom.”

The simulation will educate students about the water purification process, engineering skills needed to create infrastructure, water conservation, and careers in the water treatment industry.

“We think that it is valuable to train students on pathways to water-related jobs and to tackle challenges related to our shared and most valuable resource,” he said.

The SBIR grant encourages small businesses to engage in research and development that has the potential for commercialization. The one-year Phase 1 grant will cover market research costs like conducting interviews with educators and curriculum developers to understand the STEM education market. Brown Engineers will apply for a Phase II grant, which supports the development of the product, by the end of the year, Rainwater said.

Rainwater completed his Master of Science degree and Ph.D. in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His Ph.D. research includes new materials development for emerging energy technologies with support from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Rainwater has worked at UA Little Rock since 2016 and teaches Introduction to Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Materials classes.

“It’s a great opportunity to teach engineering materials to students,” he said. “Dr. Andrew Wright, Dr. Ibrahim Nisanci, and Dr. Alex Biris have been great mentors in the Systems Engineering department, and I’m lucky to get to teach my favorite subject.”

Share this Post:
Skip to toolbar