Amid the glow of the summer sun, camp has always been a time for frolicking and friends. In recent years, camp has become much more. Skills-based camps from sports to crafts to robotics now fill up kid’s schedule during the few weeks between school years, exposing them to new tools, technologies and future career options. This summer, the USC Viterbi Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering (AME) launched a pilot program aimed at providing youth with exposure to engineering to help them develop confidence and interest in the subject area.
Organized by the AME Instructional Lab and its Senior Lab Technician Jeffrey Vargas, the camp, which took place from July 22 to July 24, provided nine Los Angeles-area youth with interactive learning experiences. Students were introduced to concepts such as thrust, weight, friction, lift and drag, and enjoyed daily activities applying these concepts to hands-on design and construction projects. During the three-day camp, youth constructed and tested a CO2-powered pinewood derby car, an airplane glider and a water bottle rocket, which they later launched into the sky.
Said Vargas: “As a father of two girls, I was looking for a STEM summer program that would keep my kids engaged in critical thinking. In a conversation with Dr. Radovich, he suggested that I use our platform to create the program I envisioned. When I pitched the idea to our lab staff, they loved it and they became the backbone of the program. We were excited to have the opportunity to inspire kids to become engineers.”
Vargas was assisted by AME Instructional Lab Senior Lab Technicians Rodney Yates and Bill Colvin, and USC Viterbi students Hugo Villafana, James Armstrong and Haowen Lui. The AME Instructional Lab, which held the Girls in AME outreach event in May, hopes to continue working with youth to promote engagement with engineering and spread interest in it as a future profession.
Each day started with a learning module where the topics were discussed with images, videos and conceptual sketches to help participants understand the most important elements in their vehicle design. Afterward, students focused on design and construction, which included a basic introduction to Computer Aided Design (CAD) where the youth sketched some of the components that would be used to create their vehicles.
Camp participants between eight to 12 years old used laser cutting to produce parts needed for their projects. AME lab technicians and students also introduced them to other manufacturing methods including additive (3D printing) and standard (mill, lathe) manufacturing techniques. The last hour of the day focused on testing their designs, concluding with a wrap up of what was learned regarding engineering forces and how these concepts impacted their designs.
The youth also received tours of USC student design team spaces including the USC Racing, USC Rocket Propulsion Lab and USC AeroDesign team spaces.
Given feedback from participants, who wished the camp had lasted longer, the AME Instructional Lab team hopes to follow up with a five-day version of this year’s pilot in 2020. The camp was supported by the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, with guidance and training from Anne Calvo, director for youth protection and programming.