George Mason University
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George Mason University

STEM summer camps spark student collaboration

July 12, 2019   /   by Ryley McGinnis

Students use common household items like cardboard, hot glue, and tape to test their water proofing skills and learn about civil engineering concepts. Photo by Ryley McGinnis.

Students (from front left to front right) Veronika Shcherbynina, Riley Blackburn, Nathan Madden, Caleb Faulkerson, and Elyssia Brown use common household items like cardboard, hot glue, and tape to test their water-proofing skills and learn about civil engineering concepts. Photo by Ryley McGinnis.

Tinfoil and hot glue aren’t what most people would use to waterproof their houses, but for the middle school to high school-aged campers participating in the Volgenau School of Engineering’s STEM Summer Camps, these are some of the tools they used to learn the basics of civil engineering. 

The camps started July 8 and continue through August 9. Each week focuses on different areas in engineering, computer science, big data, and more. Mason Engineering students are on hand to lend a hand and help the campers with their projects.

“We have 120 students enrolled in our STEM summer camps this year,” says Kammy Sanghera, STEM outreach director for Mason Engineering. “The students enjoy hands-on activities and being at our state-of-the-art facility. They are eager to learn what they could do with the concepts and tools they learn from us.”  

“A lot of young kids don’t want anything to do with science or math, but this shows them that civil engineering is more than crunching numbers, that bioengineering can save lives, that with computer engineering you can build computers, and so much more,” Ayeni says. “That knowledge has value.”

Ephraim Ayeni, electrical engineering student

In the first week of the camps, the campers learned fundamentals of four areas of engineering from Mason Engineering students in their respective majors: electrical, civil, mechanical, and bioengineering. 

After that first week, campers can expand their knowledge of specific topics, such as networking, cybersecurity, big data, with different camps through the remainder of the summer. 

“Students are coming here as part of their decision-making process, so we make the camps hands-on to give them a brief overview of what engineering does to help them figure out what interests them,” says Bhargavi Mavintop, a computer science graduate teaching assistant and a camp coordinator.

Mason Engineering students start by teaching the participants the basics of each field and expanding to more difficult topics, which allows the campers to be very specialized. 

“I do appreciate that Mason is making this available and making it specific so that they get full exposure to the different areas of engineering,” says Mason junior Ephraim Ayeni, one of the instructors for the electrical engineering section of the camps.

Ayeni and his fellow instructor, Aaron Suresh, a junior studying electrical engineering, began their undergraduate careers as computer engineering majors, but both later realized that their perception of computer engineering was much different than reality and that they enjoyed electrical engineering more.  

They hope these camps not only expose students to engineering but show them the path they want to take. 

“I wish I had this exposure earlier in my life, maybe my experience would’ve been different,” says Ayeni. “Exposing them to different types of fields shows them the type of engineering that is meant for them.” 

While these campers are learning new technical skills, both Ayeni and Suresh emphasized that they are trying to also teach them problem-solving strategies, and how to work with other people. 

“My least favorite part is watching kids get frustrated and quit,” Suresh says. “It’s okay if it’s hard, but when you just sit there and let your partner do everything you won’t learn anything.” 

Ayeni and Suresh tried to promote teamwork by actively encouraging participants to talk to one another, which they hoped would lead to more perseverance in understanding the skills themselves if they had a partner to help them.

“These kids are so lucky, they are growing up in an age where technology is so convenient and they shouldn’t take it for granted,” Ayeni says. 

Ayeni and Suresh, along with the other instructors for these camps, hope that teaching the campers about their fields will show them what engineering has to offer and hopefully will draw more young minds into the ever-growing field. 

“A lot of young kids don’t want anything to do with science or math, but this shows them that civil engineering is more than crunching numbers, that bioengineering can save lives, that with computer engineering you can build computers, and so much more,” Ayeni says. “That knowledge has value.” 

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