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Students Enjoy ‘Cool’ Engineering Camps

Engineering campers put their skills to the test while building a windmill.

From the Ole Miss News Desk

Seventy-two middle and high school students have participated over two-week period  

OXFORD, Miss. – June temperatures have been scorching, but for 72 Mississippi junior high and high school students who have been enjoying engineering camps at the University of Mississippi, it’s been “way cool.”

The one-week overnight camps provide students in grades 7 through 12 with opportunities to learn and experience the engineering and manufacturing fields. Participants conduct imaginative problem-solving experiments, including an egg drop, bottle rocket launch and wind turbine lifts during the day. At night, they experienced a mobile planetarium, participated in geocaching on campus, toured Oxford on the city’s double decker bus and experienced college life by staying in one of the university’s residence halls.

“The Engineering and Manufacturing Camp is always an engaging and exciting experience,” said Susan Peterson, K-12 STEM outreach coordinator for the UM Center for Mathematics and Science Education. “The campers are introduced to engineering concepts, participate in hands on activities and travel to a manufacturing plant in Mississippi to see real-world applications of engineering.”

Hosted by the CMSE and university’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, the camps rely heavily on grants and donations from both university and non-university organizations. James Chambers, associate professor of mechanical engineering and senior scientist at the National Center for Physical Acoustics, serves as the lead instructor, while staff and students from the Department of Mechanical Engineering assist the campers as group leaders.

“We wanted to teach the students engineering concepts using real world technology, so we had them design and build wind-powered turbines for different applications,” Chambers said. “One day, they geared the turbine for speed and used a generator to make and measure electricity. Later, they geared the turbine differently to lift weight. I was thrilled that the winning team’s turbine lifted an astonishing 25 pounds.”

Providing outreach opportunities for Mississippi students is a primary focus of CMSE and theDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, Chambers said.

“I love doing STEM outreach,” he said. “As faculty, service is part of what we do and frankly, these camps are as much fun for me as the students.”

“By providing a reduced registration fee for all campers, and providing scholarships to those with a great need, we try our best to make engineering camp affordable for any student who wants to attend,” Peterson said.

First-time and returning high school campers alike said they thoroughly enjoyed the week’s activities.

“I came here searching for insights into my interest in airplanes and how they work,” said Donovan Smith, a junior at Lafayette County High School who is attending his first engineering camp. “For me, visiting GE Aviation in Batesville Wednesday was way cool.”

Hannah Love, a junior at Mt. Olive High School who attended engineering camp in 2012, was thrilled to be able to come back to camp again this year.

“We’re doing more stuff and the projects are so cool,” Love said. “I’m already looking forward to coming back in 2014.”

Middle school students also expressed great enthusiasm over their engineering camp experiences.

“I expected it would be a lot of making stuff that would be too hard for me,” said Siena Cizdziel, a seventh-grader at Oxford Middle School. “It has been challenging but also fun, and not in a way that’s too scary for me. I’ve liked staying in the dorms, riding on the double decker and all the really cool experiments.”

First-timer Pleasant Banks said she came nervous and uncertain of what to expect, but through the week has made many new friends and found her stride.

“This experience is one-of-a-kind,” said the eighth-grade student from Greenwood Middle School. “I’m learning how things are built and how they work. This is a nice place to be. Being here feels like home.”

Faculty who taught the campers during the week are hopeful they will not only return for future camps, but as future UM students seeking degrees in engineering fields.

“We’ve taught them how to convert wind power into mechanical energy,” said Brian Carpenter, a research and development engineer in UM’s National Center for Physical Acoustics. “Hopefully, they’ll be inspired to continue their educations and pursue successful careers far beyond what they can imagine here this week.” ––  BY EDWIN SMITH


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