At UD summer camps, kids use engineering to help other

Wielding power drills, pipe cleaners and rulers, a group of aspiring engineers re-wires the engines of toy cars. They swap the foot pedals for push buttons, pad rough edges with foam and deck out the vehicles with stickers of Minions and superheroes.

Now, the vehicles are ready for their new owners — two local toddlers who can’t walk.

The cars, made in collaboration with Go Baby Go!, were engineered by high school students attending the Exploring Engineering Camp at the University of Delaware earlier this month.
Students from elementary through high school are attending camps through K-12 Engineering Outreach this summer. With this year’s theme, “Engineering for Ability,” campers are learning how engineers can make and modify products to help people living with disabilities.

Learning the possibilities of engineering

At these camps, students learn engineering concepts at developmentally appropriate levels. They are exposed to new facets of engineering, learning skills that they can generalize to many situations, says Melissa Jurist, academic program manager for UD K-12 Engineering.

For example, in addition to outfitting Go Baby Go! cars, the high school campers, students going into ninth or 10th grade, worked with UD’s chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Materials and Process Engineering to learn about orthotics. They visited the Move to Learn Innovation Lab to explore the structural properties of fabrics and how textiles can be used to improve mobility. “I don’t think anybody came to camp knowing that you can be in both fashion and engineering at the same time,” says Jurist.

Popular recurring activities included the “Museum of Failure,” which highlights how mistakes are a critical part of the engineering process, and “Explain it to an Old Person,” where students teach concepts to adults to reinforce their understanding (and shatter some age biases in the process).

A camp for students going into sixth, seventh or eighth grade was held from July 24 to July 28, and a camp for students going into third, fourth, or fifth grade will be held from Aug 7 to 11.
Some students enjoy the camp so much that they return year after year.

Emerson McCauley, a rising UD freshman who graduated from the Tower Hill School in Wilmington, first attended the camp as a rising high school sophomore. She was initially skeptical because she didn’t understand what engineers do.

However, once she got to camp, she found that it was hands-on and presented challenges she enjoyed facing. She learned how to collaborate and solve real-world problems — without the set of directions she’d come to expect in regular school. “The first day I went home, I couldn’t stop talking about it,” she says.

McCauley spent the following two summers interning with engineering faculty members at UD. This summer, she volunteered as a program assistant at the engineering camp where it all started, and this fall, she’ll attend UD as a student in the College of Engineering.

Applications for next summer’s camp will be available early in 2018. A teacher recommendation is required, and spots are filled from a lottery of qualified applicants.