Summer camp helps high schoolers explore engineering fields

A new, two-week residential summer camp, now being conducted on campus through July 19, is designed to teach 17 high school students the joy, creativity, discovery and complexity of engineering.
The Summer Engineering Institute, organized by director Bernd F. Schliemann, is a multi-faceted program that allows students to explore how engineers envision creative and practical solutions that benefit the everyday lives of people and their communities. Students in the institute are exposed to varied topics and the application of science and engineering principles in chemical, civil, electrical, environmental, industrial and mechanical engineering.
As Schliemann explains, “Most of these kids are not too sure what engineering is all about. So what I would like to do during this two-week period is expose them to all the facets of engineering. I give them a sort of sprinkling of the six engineering disciplines that we offer undergraduate engineering majors, and expose them to hands-on activities, as well as some lectures on engineering.”
Most of the junior and senior students are from Massachusetts or New England, but some are international.
The engineering faculty who have volunteered to pitch in and explain the ins and outs of engineering to the students include Eleni Christofa, John Collura, David A. Reckhow, and Michael Knodler from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Yahya Modarres-Sadeghi from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, Shelly Peyton from the Chemical Engineering Department, T. Baird Soules from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, and Paula Rees, director of the Diversity Programs office.
Faculty presentations, guided discovery, and hands-on design activities open up and clarify the variety of engineering activities. Students attend field trips geared toward technical learning, team building, and enrichment activities and are also engaged in group research projects and presentations.
During the first day of the camp on July 8, the students were given an overview of all the engineering disciplines taught at the college. Then, for their hands-on introduction to mechanical engineering, they are taken for a guided tour of theInnovation Shop, a sophisticated machine shop that boasts welding capabilities and a 3-D printer. It is the hub of all fabrication taking place in the department, and the Supermileage Vehicle, which just scored a tight-fisted 1,010 mpg in the national supermileage competition, is built and housed there.
Then, throughout the rest of the first week, the students variously visit M5 to learn basic techniques of electrical engineering; learn about AutoCad programs; tour a fluid-structure interaction lab; receive a lecture on statics; are introduced to Geographic Information Systems; learn about transportation engineering; do some basic bridge construction; visit a water resources engineering lab; go to a chemical engineering lab that studies cancer; and build a fuel cell.
The highlights of the second week include various field trips, including treks to the Blackstone Valley and an engineering lab at Smith College.
Throughout the busy two-week program, visiting students also work on teams developing their own projects, which they present on the final day of camp.
“The backdrop to this two-week program is that these students have to conjecture, develop, design, and then present an actual concept with the theme of disaster relief, which really lets the students gravitate toward a multitude of engineering disciplines,” says Schliemann.  “So they can develop a biomedical idea, or some kind of environmental concept, or anything else related to engineering. I hope to reinforce that engineering is simply technical problem-solving where creativity intersects basic math and science knowledge.”
Their concepts are based on the background research they do on their first night on campus, studying the Japanese tsunami disaster of 2011. Then they decide what aspects of disaster relief they want to tackle.
Schliemann sums up the Summer Engineering Institute by noting, “There will be some pretty cool things these students will be exposed to, so they can make a smarter and more intelligent choice regarding their majors.”