An inspirational STEM PhD Student introduces students to new possibilities
Nick Mehlman, engineering PhD Student
The USC K-12 STEM Center hosts a new program called Research Engineering Access Camp for High-School (REACH) Program. The REACH program aims to help students strengthen their STEM identity and understand the ways that engineering research benefits society. The goal for REACH participants is to learn more about how future opportunities in SHINE or other research programs can help them create a powerful college and career pathway.
We welcomed our second cohort during the Fall 2022 semester. During the program we focused on interactive examples and demonstrations facilitated by Nick Mehlman a USC Engineering PhD Student who made learning fun! He is passionate about math, science, and engineering, and loves to share these topics with others. He became part of the REACH team as he knows that he wouldn’t be where he is today without the kindness and mentorship of so many teachers and other individuals. He believes in the idea of ‘paying it forward’ and hopes to encourage the next generation of STEM professionals.
The sessions were led by Nick Mehlman a PhD Student at the University of Southern California studying Electrical and Computer Engineering. He is part of the Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory (SAIL) at Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering; Department of Computer Science – USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
SAIL focuses on human-centered signal & information processing that address key societal needs. Bridging science and engineering, SAILers pioneer behavioral signal processing and behavioral machine intelligence, affective computing, multimodal signal processing, computational media intelligence and computational speech science.
Session Details according to Nick:
"For the Electrical Engineering (EE) session I first provided students with an overview of the field to highlight the diverse set of topics that EE encompasses. I then introduced the basic principles of electricity that all EE students learn during their first semester. Using an online circuit simulator, I showed how these concepts allow us to construct useful electronic circuits such as an audio filter. I concluded with a simulation of a communication channel, in which we model the errors that are induced by additive noise. Electrical engineering is not something that most High School students are exposed to (I sure wasn’t!), and as a result miss out on the opportunity to pursue it when they get to college. I hope that my presentation gave the student an insight into what electrical engineers do, and how important the field is to the technology we use every day.
I began my Signal Processing session by drawing on an analogy with the human sensory system as a way to define the discipline. I then summarized the different types of signal (e.g. audio, video) we work with, and gave examples of signal processing tasks. Then I gave two demos highlighting both audio and images. In the audio demo, I explained how we capture sound, and convert it into a digital audio file. I then demonstrated how we can design a digital filter to remove an unwanted noise tone from the audio. For the image demo I explained how the pixels in an image are represented to a computer. I then showed how we filter images, and how different filters impact the resulting picture. I think that exposing High School students to signal processing helps highlight the role that engineering plays in our daily lives. All of us regularly interface with photos, music, video ex., and seeing the signal processing that enables this is really fascinating! Yes engineering can be complicated with lots of math, but the problems that it solves are highly relatable.
Lastly, in my Math session I tried to show the student topics that highlight the beauty and complexity of the subject. I also wanted to expose them to types of math that they wouldn’t have seen in their normal math classes. I discussed fractals by using the Mandelbrot set as an illustrative example. I then transitioned to probability and statistics emphasizing some of the non-intuitive aspects such as Bayes Rule and the Central Limit Theorem. Then I discussed the confusing and paradoxical nature of infinity, finishing with the Cantor set. I think many HS students mistakenly this math is boring, dry, or decoupled from real-life experience. I hope I was able to dispel some of these misconceptions, and show how math is not only practically relevant and useful but also incredibly beautiful and even profound."
A few photos of simulations.
“Enjoyed the sessions mostly because he's a real engineering student.”
“The sessions with Nick were my favorite part of the