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Camp Badger shows students the 'why' behind math, science

On the third day of Camp Badger -- a week-long program designed to give students entering eighth, ninth and tenth grade an opportunity to learn about various engineering disciplines -- three engineers from J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc. explained the importance of using concrete in construction projects. Twenty-eight students listened intently, some asking questions, others commenting on projects being built in their hometowns.

Then came the part they were waiting for -- an opportunity to get their hands on the substance of their studies. Under the supervision of the Findorff crew and several College of Engineering advisors, students weighed the appropriate amount of cement, mixed it with just the right quantity of water and aggregate, and then poured the wet concrete into a mold of the letters CAMP BADGER.

Participants pour concrete

Camp Badger participants pour concrete into a mold. (large image)

Later in the afternoon, the group took a walking tour of downtown Madison's 'Block 89.' By observing this construction site -- which includes an 800-stall underground parking facility, a 10-story structure and an 80,000-square-foot building addition -- the students were able to see how real-life engineers apply what they've learned in the classroom.

This was just part of one day's activities for the first Camp Badger, which ran July 5-11 on the UW-Madison campus. A second session will be held July 19-25. The program was made possible by a grant from the university's Office of Outreach Development to the Department of Engineering Professional Development. Other cooperating units include the college's Diversity Affairs Office, the School of Education, Outreach Education, Pre-College Programs and University Housing.

Originally, organizers planned on holding only one camp session, but an overwhelming response (about 150 applicants had to be turned away) led to the addition of the second week. The college hopes to make this an annual event.

Erica Orton of Milwaukee High School for the Arts and Elise Caceres of Milwaukee's Rufus King High School said they applied for Camp Badger to help them explore career options. Caceres said she really enjoyed a close-up look at the college's various student automobile projects. One of Orton's favorite activities was a boat ride on Madison's lakes with a scientific slant.

The program also made a positive impression on the three teachers who attended.

1998 Camp Badger participants

Participants in Camp Badger 1998 gather on Engineering Mall. (large image)

Patricia Jarzynski, a science teacher from Watertown High School, said Camp Badger helped students get a better idea of what engineering is all about. "I'd like to talk to my students about this for next year," she said.

Joan Cardarella of Madison's Blackhawk Middle School said much of the what she took in will help her explain to her math students how what they're studying can be applied to real life. "It will give them reasons for wanting to do better in school."

And Joan Degen, a middle school teacher from Cambridge, said Camp Badger will help students "get their bearings set" as they prepare for college. "They can start planning for the classes they need to take."

Other Camp Badger activities included one-on-one visits with engineering students; a talk by Matt Joseph and Lori Skelton, hosts of the popular radio show "All About Cars"; tours of the Air National Guard base Truax Field and the Point Beach Nuclear Power Station; and plenty of recreational opportunities.

"This was an opportunity for young men and women to join a diverse group of their peers in a program that got them thinking about potential careers," said Paul L. Ross, who helped organize the event. "Participants saw first-hand how knowledge is applied in labs and research settings. They left with a better idea of what engineers do in real life."