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Book by Alumni Teaches 3rd Graders About Automotive Engineering

by Sharita Forrest, UI News Bureau / Jun 7, 2021

Professor Jennifer Amos

C&I adjunct associate professor Jennifer Amos created a program in which students write and illustrate children’s books with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics themes. “Jenny Saves a Convertible,” the first book from the program to be published, teaches third-grade students the nuts and bolts of automotive design and engineering.

A new book written and illustrated by two recent Illinois alumnae introduces third graders to the nuts and bolts of automotive mechanics and engineering.

“Jenny Saves a Convertible” is the first book written and illustrated by U. of I. students to be published through a project with Illinois Engineering Ambassadors, a public outreach and professional development group for students in the Grainger College of Engineering.

The group reaches more than 1,000 schoolchildren each year, providing high-quality educational events and hands-on activities on the U. of I. campus and in elementary and secondary schools in the Champaign and Chicago areas.

Bioengineering teaching associate professor Jennifer Amos, who is also adjunct faculty in Curriculum & Instruction, co-founded and co-directs the group and said she intends for “Jenny” to be the inaugural volume in a series of children’s books that will pique young people’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“The book project started as a way to enhance the outreach that we’re doing in schools and get kids excited before we visit,” Amos said.

Amos raised the funds for the University of Illinois Press to publish 100 copies of “Jenny” and other stories written by engineering students who participate in the project. The  “Jenny” book will be provided to schoolteachers this fall to read with their students and will complement learning activities led by Illinois Engineering Ambassadors during classroom visits or virtually.

The author, Taylor Tucker of Winnetka, Illinois, who graduated in May with a master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction and also earned a bachelor’s degree in Engineering Mechanics in 2017, said writing the book fulfilled a longtime aspiration. 

“I’ve always loved to write in any form, and I had thought several years ago about doing a children’s book because I wanted to reach that young audience somehow,” Tucker said. “But I knew I would need a good illustrator and the right opportunity to make something like that happen. I put that in the back of my mind and decided, when the time is right, I will do this.”

Opportunity knocked in 2019 when Amos discussed her book project idea at a meeting. Undergraduate students in engineering and graphic design would write and illustrate children’s stories with STEM themes for credit toward 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 work, they discuss how internal combustion engines operate, and by the end of the tale, Jenny has gained enough knowledge that she fixes up a convertible by herself and drives it in a parade.

While the story is fictional and employs bits of “magical realism,” Tucker said it was inspired by her family’s interest in cars.

The story also involves female empowerment, 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 societal gender expectations of the time.

Tucker said she hopes the story will spark girls’ curiosity about how objects work and empower them to think about design improvements they could make if they were to become engineers.

Read the full story at the UI News Bureau website...