Engineering the Future
Summer camps offer hands-on experience to budding scientists
Two Engineeristas undertake a mechanical dissection in a project led by several female engineers from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
It’s a Thursday morning in July and there’s something a little different about the occupants of Kingsbury Hall’s student project room. For one thing, they are all middle-school aged, some twenty eager pupils with braces and ponytails. For another, they’re all female—not just the ponytailed students, but also the instructors, and even the teaching assistants. They’re taking part in Engineeristas, an introductory tech camp for rising sixth and seventh grade girls and, as program director Michele Munson explains, “We want these students to see successful women in the field of engineering, so they can imagine themselves someday in the same place.”
Engineeristas in CEPS researcher Emese Hadnagy’s “environmental issues” unit build a small-scale water filtration system. (courtesy photo)
Now in its third year, Engineeristas is one of several very successful summer camps offered by the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS), and the only one that caters exclusively to girls. An offshoot of a two-week, co-ed “Tech Camp” the college has run since 2007, Engineeristas captures girls at an age when they are particularly vulnerable to questioning their potential as scientists.
“Middle school is typically the point at which you find girls starting to tell themselves they’re not as good at math and science as their male peers,” Munson notes. The Engineeristas camp delivers a double whammy of positive reinforcement to scientifically inclined girls, not only by giving them an audience with successful role models, but also by providing them with the opportunity to work on projects in a broad range of engineering disciplines. Over the course of five days, campers undertake units in six separate engineering disciplines— civil, environmental, mechanical, and chemical engineering, as well as computer animation and construction—and execute projects that range from building a model filtration system using breakfast cereal to designing catapults to creating a computer-animated video.
With the help of counselor and CEPS engineering student Liz Cardin ’14, a student in the Tech Camp builds a model of a glucose molecule to better understand the relationship between structure and solubility.
“So far, my favorite part has been the computer animation,” says Taylor Pratt, 12, who is attending the camp with friend and Manchester, N.H., middle school classmate Gabrielle Roy. Like most of their camp mates, Pratt and Roy are first-time Engineeristas, though there are two students who have returned from last year’s session—and there’s one camper who has come all the way from Quebec, Canada, to take part.
Munson is thrilled by the response the camp has received. It fills up early, a mix of students who stay on campus and those who commute. “I got a note from one mother who’d had a text from her daughter the first night saying she needed to plan next summer around coming back to this camp,” Munson reports with a laugh.
Engineeristas has also seen a number of its students go on to the University’s two-week Tech Camp for students entering eighth through eleventh grade. And while boys outnumber girls in this coed program—16 of this year’s participants are female compared to 32 males—Munson says the number of female Tech Campers is steadily increasing, as is the camp’s retention rate for campers who have come multiple years. Nearly a third of this year’s Tech Camp participants are repeat customers.
Like Engineeristas, the two-week camp introduces budding engineers to a range of disciplines and projects over the course of a week. The difference is Tech Camp’s second week, however, when campers select a single area of focus from the subjects introduced the previous week and pursue a more in-depth project to develop, complete, and present over the course of five days. This year’s project areas include environmental research, robotics, solar printmaking, 3D prototyping, geographical information systems (GIS), materials science, and animated filmmaking.
Stewart Laroche ’16 says attending Tech Camp as a high school student sealed the deal on his interest in UNH. He’s working this summer as one of the camp’s counselors, and will begin his own studies in CEPS in the fall.
“Hopefully, we are introducing these students if not to our engineering program here at UNH specifically, then at least to the idea of an academic career in engineering somewhere,” says CEPS Dean Sam Mukasa ’77. “It’s no secret that the U.S. is falling behind in producing professionals in the STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering, and math. For example, 21 percent of graduating college seniors in China today majored in engineering, whereas in the U.S. that number is only 4.5 percent. Programs like Tech Camp and Engineeristas are essential to nurturing the next generation of scientists and engineers.”
Engineeristas and Tech Camp are just two of the University’s programs aimed at making science accessible to—and fun for—younger students. Students as young as second grade occupy Kingsbury in mid-July as part of the KEEPERS (Kids Eager for Engineering Program with Elementary Research-based Science) program, and tomorrow, high school sophomores and juniors participating in Project SMART will wrap up an intense, four-week residential study of space science, bio- and nanotechnology, or marine and environmental science. To keep the experience affordable for aspiring scientists from all backgrounds, programs run with generous support that includes grants from the University’s James and Joan Leitzel Center, the Interoperability Lab, NH EPSCoR, Liberty Mutual, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and Whelen Engineering.
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