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High school students get hands-on look at engineering

It's summer camp with a definite engineering twist. Twenty-two high school juniors and seniors are getting acquainted with the field at the college's Engineering Summer Program (ESP) for High School Students of Color.

Henderson performs experiment

Engineering Physics Professor Douglass L. Henderson, left, demonstrates an experiment which calculates lift to a group of students in the college's Engineering Summer Program. (large image)

The students, who are from across the United States, are getting intensive exposure to college-level science, math and engineering courses. Days are filled with classes in computer science, chemistry, pre-calculus and technical writing. It's a challenging course of study for a good reason, says ESP director Alem Asres, assistant dean for diversity. "We like to prepare students for college life, for science and technology, so they can fit into the work world, ready to carry on the task assigned to them. We feel some have a deficit in their learning about science. Many high school students aren't really prepared to take on college without some intervention. Many will not be prepared to enter into engineering. This program effectively addresses that need."

A new feature of the program this year is a twice-weekly lecture series which includes hands-on theory and practice. The labs give the students an idea of the range of engineering as a field, says the series coordinator, Engineering Physics Professor Douglass L. Henderson. "We expose them to the variety available in engineering. We want them to consider studying engineering, so our goal is to get a spark going that will interest them." For example, an introductory laboratory in mechanical engineering involved an experiment in taking data and calculating lift--flow over an airfoil, such as an airplane wing. A materials science lab let the students get hands-on experience making their own polymer.

The students are also learning about minority scientists, inventors and their inventions, Asres says, "So they can be empowered to say, 'I can do it, too.'"

The students live in campus residence halls and are taught and advised by engineering faculty, graduate students and staff. The program began on June 22 and runs through August 8.