Pre-college project-based learning programs are essential means to increase the students’ interest toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines and careers. Engineering-based projects have shown significant impact on the students’ interests. Therefore, developing countries are investing strategically in their emphasis to attract students to careers in STEM fields, specifically engineering and medicine. That resulted in a steady expansion of their educational pipeline in STEM; and while that emphasis remains, there is a new and urgent need for expertise in agriculture, environmental science, life sciences and sustainability to support the agriculture industry, which is working to secure independent sources of food for their population. New interventions must be devised to stimulate broader interest in STEM fields while also increasing students’ academic readiness for advanced studies in those areas. To target the requirement of increasing people’s competencies in STEM fields, various programs have been created and designed to inspire and broaden students’ inquisitiveness toward STEM.
This paper presents an integrated science-engineering program, called Qatar Invents, designed to support and enhance students’ learning of science concepts while also increasing students’ understanding of global challenges in food and water security. This goes with close connection to the desire to increase in the domestic production of agricultural resources in developing countries in recent years. Qatar Invents would engage students into learning and applying fundamental engineering skills onto relatable real-world issues: namely, in the design of hydroponics systems. Qatar Invents challenges students to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in solving modern problems through the use of the engineering design process. With hands-on challenges, modeling, and communication training, students are motivated to tackle problems related to food security where they create hydroponics projects. Qatar Invents’ learning objectives included: teamwork, using proper toolbox skills, understanding what is engineering, the process of brainstorming, creating successful innovative designs, building prototypes, and developing presentation skills. Throughout this program, the participants were equipped with hands-on knowledge and critical thinking skills that helped them achieve their objectives. Utilizing the engineering design process, the students worked in small teams to brainstorm ideas and create inventions. The topics covered during the program included the importance of an engineering notebook and documentation, principals of engineering graphics, basics of agricultural science, foundations of hydroponics, the brainstorming practice, generating a decision matrix, proof of concept, and pitching ideas. At the end of the program, the students came up with novel solutions to serious problems wherein unique hydroponics projects were produced and presented to a panel of experts. This program attempts to build bridges between developing countries’ STEM education pipeline and the new demand of talent in the agriculture sector. All pertinent details including the preparation, instructional materials, prototyping materials, and case studies are presented in this paper.