Hands-on from the Start

Taryn Bayles
Taryn Bayles gets freshmen excited about science through competitive, hands-on projects.

Making Engineering Exciting


If you’re strolling across the UMBC campus and happen upon a catapult contraption flinging water balloons across a field or homemade hot air balloons floating high above the Engineering and Computer Science building atrium, be sure to look for Taryn Bayles.

Bayles is an energetic and inspiring lecturer in UMBC’s Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering who specializes in getting freshmen excited about science through competitive, hands-on projects.

Three years ago, Bayles came to UMBC and began teaching ENES 101 – Introduction to Engineering Science. In addition to class lectures, Bayles ends each semester with a competition that puts theoretical principles into some fun, real-life use.

Bayles prides herself with coming up with a new contest each year. To date the competitions have revolved around human-powered water pumps, water balloon catapults and model hot-air balloons. The idea being that formulas and physical laws are easier to understand when students are using them to do something fun --  launching projectiles at a target, or seeing whose mini hot-air balloon stays aloft the longest.

“I like to have my students build things,” Bayles says. “The freshmen are always very creative. They come up with innovative things that a senior may not have thought of.”

Bayles likes to be hands-on as well, even making herself the target for the final stage of the water balloon catapult contest this spring. She also makes sure the materials are inexpensive, use only simple tools and require very little technical background since all the competitors are just starting out in college.

Bayles’ passion for making science education fun goes beyond her own classes. Since coming to UMBC, she has worked with Anne Spence, a lecturer in mechanical engineering and Claudia Morrell, director of planning and grants at the Center for Women and Information Technology, on four National Science Foundation grants for engineering education outreach.

One grant puts UMBC students in area high school science classrooms to give hands-on engineering demonstrations. Another project is developing a CD-ROM of engineering based algebra lessons to help high schools comply with a new Maryland law making algebra a required course. Other grants are funding a video project on women and technology and scholarships for computer science and engineering students.

“These grants work two ways,” Bayles says. “UMBC students get class management skills from teachers while the teachers get engineering knowledge from the students.” Bayles also teaches courses in Chemical Engineering Analysis, Transport Phenomena II and has taught a summer course for high school teachers and guidance counselors to help them better use engineering principles in their classrooms.

Bayles' commitment to her students doesn’t end when they graduate. She often uses her extensive private sector background to help former students find summer jobs with industry leaders like DuPont. “I encourage all of my students to do research at another university or a summer internship so they can be sure they want to pursue a career in engineering,” Bayles says.

When she’s not working hard as an advocate for science education at UMBC, Bayles’ top priority is her two children. But even at home, it’s tough to take the engineer out of the mom. Bayles is proud that, in addition to being very involved in the PTA, she also regularly teaches hands-on science classes at her children’s elementary school.