Children’s book written by U of I students teaches third-year students about automotive engineering
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – A new book written and illustrated by two alumni of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign introduces third-year students to the inner workings of auto mechanics and engineering.
“Jenny Saves a Convertible” is the first book written and illustrated by students at U. of I. to be published as part of a project with Illinois Engineering Ambassadors, a public awareness and professional development group for students of Grainger College of Engineering.
The group reaches over 1,000 schoolchildren each year, providing high-quality educational events and hands-on activities on the I University campus. and in elementary and secondary schools in the Champaign and Chicago areas.
Bioengineering professor Jennifer Amos, who co-founded and co-directs the group, said she intends to make “Jenny” the first volume in a series of children’s books that will generate interest. young people for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“The book project started out as a way to improve awareness that we do in schools and get kids excited before our visit,” Amos said.
Amos raised funds for the University of Illinois Press to publish 100 copies of “Jenny” and other stories written by engineering students participating in the project. The “Jenny” book will be provided to teachers this fall for them to read with their students and will complement the learning activities conducted by Illinois Engineering Ambassadors during classroom or virtual tours.
Former student Taylor Tucker
Former student Taylor Tucker is the author of “Jenny Saves a Convertible”.
Author Taylor Tucker of Winnetka, Ill., Who received a master’s degree in curriculum and teaching in May and also earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2017, said the book’s writing met a long-standing aspiration.
“I have always liked to write in any form, and I thought many years ago about making a children’s book because I wanted to reach out to this young audience in one way or another,” said Tucker said. “But I knew I would need a good illustrator and the right opportunity to do something like this. I put that in my head and decided, when the time is right, I will.”
The opportunity arose in 2019 when Amos discussed his idea for a book project in a meeting. Undergraduate engineering and graphic design students would write and illustrate children’s stories with STEM themes to earn credit for their degrees.
In “Jenny Saves a Convertible”, a young girl dreams of refurbishing her own car as she helps her grandfather in his auto repair shop. While Jenny and her grandfather are working, they discuss how internal combustion engines work, and by the end of the story, Jenny has gained enough knowledge to repair a convertible on her own and drive it on a parade. .
Although the story is fictional and uses elements of “magical realism,” Tucker said she was inspired by her family’s interest in cars.
The character Jenny in the illustrations for the children’s book “Jenny Saves a Convertible”
Author Taylor Tucker, who based the story on her family’s interest in cars, hopes the character’s adventures will spark girls’ curiosity about how objects work and allow them to create design improvements.
Photo by Fred Zwicky
The story also involves the empowerment of women, another theme inspired by Tucker’s family. Her grandfather, an automotive engineer, and her grandmother encouraged Tucker’s mother and her three sisters to be independent and transcend the gender expectations of society at the time.
Tucker said she hopes the story will spark girls’ curiosity about how objects work and empower them to think about what design improvements they could make if they become engineers.
Tucker wrote “Jenny” during her first year in the Digital Environments for Learning, Teaching, and Agency graduate program at the College of Education. Nicole Dowling of Louisville, Kentucky, her partner on the project and a senior at the time, created the illustrations to credit a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. She graduated in 2020.
Tucker will participate in future school tours with Illinois Engineering Ambassadors when she returns to the U. of I. in 2022 for a doctoral program in engineering.
Amos said learning how to explain their work to younger people also benefits engineering students – something Amos discovered when she taught seventh-graders twice a week during her graduate studies.
“Being able to explain the research I was doing to my students changed my way of thinking and helped me focus on impact and stay motivated,” she said.
“The engineering students who wrote the books had the same experience. Communicating what they are doing to younger people makes them better engineers.”
To make the book “Jenny” more widely available, Tucker and Dowling also self-published it through Amazon and recently made it available digitally. The two women found their collaboration on the book so rewarding that they decided to embark on a second book project on their own, Tucker said.
“The story uses weather science and a child’s fear of thunderstorms to teach methods for dealing with anxiety, such as taking deep breaths to calm down,” Tucker said.
Amos is finalizing a second book in collaboration with Illinois Engineering Ambassadors that she plans to publish in the fall. Written by former engineer Samantha Park and illustrated by former graphic designer Felicia Phillips, the story introduces children to computers through the experiences of two girls curious about cell phone apps.
With the pandemic limiting in-person activities during the 2020-2021 school year, Illinois engineering ambassadors have made their school visits to Zoom, Amos said.
Even when schools allow in-person visits to resume, the group can continue to virtually offer certain activities to reach more children. As a result, the group is working on a set of YouTube videos and creating a STEM-themed coloring book for very young children to expand their audience, she said.
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