The 2012 Ragnar E. Onstad
Service to Society Award
While most kids’ ideas about what professional engineers do might stop with bridges and trains, the middle-schoolers who work with Engineering Professional Development Professor Philip O’Leary have already chatted with rocket scientists, explored an F-16 jet cockpit and toured a nuclear fusion reactor.
Those have all been activities offered by Camp Badger, a weeklong summer camp O’Leary created in 1998 to showcase the diverse possibilities of an engineering career. More than 2,000 campers have participated in the program’s 13-year history.
Camp Badger introduces engineering to Wisconsin students entering the 8th grade—a key time when students start to make decisions about a math and science path. Camp Badger shows how those academic decisions can open the door to exciting and meaningful careers.
Campers see engineering in action through field trips to construction sites, manufacturing plants and research labs. They spend the week in undergraduate student housing and become familiar with college life while conducting their own hands-on projects.
Camp Badger also has made student diversity a high priority, recognizing that engineering needs many more women and people from underserved populations in its ranks. Over the years, nearly 40 percent of all participants have been female, and 22 percent have been racial and ethnic minorities. Most students come from lower-income backgrounds and receive scholarships to participate. Rather than targeting straight-A students, teachers recommend bright kids who could use a little extra experience to reach their full potential. “Many people spend their lives trying to make the world a better place,” says Middleton High School teacher Michael Jones. “Phil O’Leary can honestly say he achieved this by actively helping our children, our university and our state reach new heights through his tireless efforts with Camp Badger.”
O’Leary has added additional sessions to the Madison camp and launched a satellite camp in northwest Wisconsin. The Camp Badger offered at UW-River Falls in 2011 attracted kids from northern Wisconsin and the Twin Cities region.
“Camp Badger lights the fire of engineering for many of these kids, some of whom have realized their dream of an engineering education here at UW,” says Jeffrey Russell, vice provost for lifelong learning and dean of continuing studies. “These Wisconsin-raised kids are far more likely than non-native students to remain or eventually return to the state to work for Wisconsin employers and advance the state’s economy.”
Katie Thousand, who has worked as a counselor and coordinator, says the reviews from parents say it best. “They stated that through Camp Badger, their child was inspired in a way they have never seen,” she says. “'They were excited for school to start, eager to learn more about engineering, and for some, their child would be the first in their family to ever attend a four-year college.”