Future engineers to explore science at Camp Connect
Published: Sunday, July 15, 2012
Updated: Sunday, July 15, 2012 16:07
Halfway through the sweltering days of July, summer camps are in full swing. Children across the country are playing kickball, dodgeball and hide-and-go-seek, trying to make the most of their brief three months of freedom. But on Monday, more than 100 middle and high school students will overtake UCF’s campus for a summer camp engineered to get them excited about the classroom.
Camp Connect is a five-day summer camp involving the College of Engineering and Computer Science, offering eighth, ninth and 10th graders the chance to explore the disciplines of science, math and technology while learning what career options they can pursue at UCF. Each student paid $50 after submitting an online application to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, an office within the CECS that conceived and organized the camp.
From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the week, the students will participate in hands-on activities related to electrical, industrial, mechanical, Aerospace and environmental engineering, as well as computer science. Fidelia Nnadi, the director of diversity and inclusion, said that one of the central goals of the camp is to encourage students to continue learning about engineering and science throughout their high school careers, enticing them to return to UCF year after year.
“The idea is to take a group of students and develop a pipeline whereby these kids will be back here next year, until they graduate from high school,” Nnadi said.
She is quick to point out that the camp would not have been possible without the help of the various engineering departments, which not only put together a day’s worth of activities but also contributed $500 to pay for the students’ lunches.
It’s not hard to see why each department instantly endorsed the camp, camp coordinator Jennifer McDaniel said. Having the opportunity to stimulate the interest of more than 100 potential students is difficult to turn down.
“Every department has completely bought into it,” McDaniel said. “Their support has been tremendous. And why not? What better way to get [students] involved and excited about engineering at UCF?”
McDaniel said that selecting students from certain grades was no accident. Students from 11th and 12th grades were ignored because, McDaniel said, they have usually already chosen their field of study by that time. By targeting eighth through 10th graders, the camp can push them closer to engineering and science disciplines while also helping them prepare for college by taking the right classes.
“They need to select [a focus] early and pick the right classes,” McDaniel said. “For 11th and 12th [graders], they’ve already made their decision, and they may not have taken the right courses for engineering majors. We want to get students during their decision-making process.”
But the camp is a special project for Nnadi, who hopes that it will continue her mission of diversity throughout the college. According to statistics Nnadi gathered from UCF, between 2006 and 2011, the CECS awarded only 35 percent of its bachelor’s degrees to underrepresented demographics. Female students were the best represented minority at 15 percent, while Native Americans only made up 0.5 percent. In the same five years, only 36 percent of students who earned masters’ were minorities.
To Nnadi, diversity is the key to finding unique solutions to certain problems around the world.
“Diversity brings different views or perceptions to a problem,” Nnadi said. “The way you see a problem may not be a way I see the problem. … The solution you think of may not be the solution I suggest. If we have a diverse environment, we can all bring our good ideas and take the best solution to the problem. It has been proven that that is the best way to improve global problems in economics, engineering and health.”
In the future, McDaniel hopes to grow the event by opening partnerships with outside corporations.
“[Students] don’t want to hear the same thing year after year,” McDaniel said. “It’s going to grow from having students decide the disciplines they want to do, to applying the disciplines and asking themselves ‘how can I become an electrical, civil, industrial engineer, etc.’”
The camp’s selection of candidates highlights the importance of guiding students toward their disciplines early on in their academic careers. Jordan Kicklighter, a sophomore studying computer science, said he would have taken advantage of the camp if he could have. Kicklighter agrees that the camp’s age range is perfectly suited to inspire passion in students to study in STEM-related fields.