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Summer Camps and Tech Challenges Prepare Next Generation Scientists, Engineers

July 15, 2009

The lazy days of summer may be the most challenging time to keep students and teachers motivated and engaged in academics. Fortunately, several programs across the country have risen to the challenge. And, with the Obama Administration's pledge to make math and science education a national priority, now may be an opportune time for collaboration among federal and state agencies, private foundations, and industry to reverse the U.S. decline in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

As U.S. students continue to lag internationally in math and science test scores, there is a growing concern among policymakers, educators and industry leaders about the nation's ability to compete in a global economy. Results of the U.S. Department of Education Trends in Mathematics and Science Study released last December show that average science performance in fourth- and eighth-graders has stagnated since 1995, according to a Washington Post article. Students in ten other countries outperformed U.S. students in science, and students in eight countries outperformed U.S. students in math.

This summer, several initiatives are underway to build excitement in STEM fields and recruit a new generation of scientists and engineers. From real-world challenges to enhancing the quality of curriculum for teachers and encouraging minority participation, the following overview provides examples of innovative efforts from communities across the country.

Challenging Youth To Solve Real World Problems

In May, Gov. John Baldacci kicked off the Maine High School Wind Blade Challenge at the University of Maine. Thirty-one teams from 18 high schools across the state were formed to research designs and produce wind blades for the first annual competition. The wind blades were then tested at the University of Maine Fieldhouse to determine the winner. Testing measured the power output of each blade turbine design at a set wind speed. Each team worked with leading composite companies and manufacturing labs and received a kit of composite resources to produce the blades. The competition encourages students and teachers to explore the use and application of composite materials in expanding alternative energy industries, reports Composites World.

Students from across the country travelled to Ohio this summer to participate in a project to help draft plans for redevelopment of a Dayton, Ohio landmark as part of the University of Dayton Pre-Engineering Program Camp.

A collection of five historic buildings in Dayton's central business district, the Dayton Arcade has been awaiting redevelopment for 18 years, according to a news release. Student teams examined ways to incorporate Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design principles into the Arcade's interior and drafted plans that focused on identifying high-performance green interiors that are less costly to operate and maintain and have a reduced environmental impact. Officials said the students' work could help identify ideas that Dayton Arcade LLC can use in the future.

The Pre-Engineering Program Camp is one of three University of Dayton School of Engineering camps being offered this summer. Organizers hope the challenge will persuade students to pursue careers in the field by identifying with a real-world problem and being a part of the solution.

eCybermission, a U.S. Army challenge for students in grades six through nine, encourages students to identify a challenge or issue within their community and propose a solution using STEM principles. The web-based competition drew more than 12,000 students competing this summer for $5,000 savings bonds. After selecting an issue, students proposed a solution, conducted research and experimentation, and presented recommendations in the form of a scientific paper. Some of this year's projects addressed invasive species that destroy crops in local farming communities and how to make children's Halloween costumes less flammable.

Enriching Curriculum for Teachers

New Jersey
Teachers attending summer programs offered at Princeton University are being paired with researchers and faculty at The Center for Mid-Infared Technologies for Health and the Environment (MIRTHE) to enrich their curriculum by experiencing state-of-the-art research in technologies and engineering systems. MIRTHE runs two summer programs: one for current high school teachers, and the other for community college faculty and professional trainers who are pursuing alternative career paths to science teaching.

The Research Experience for Teachers (RET) targets high school teachers who teach chemistry, physics, or technology-related subjects. This summer, three teachers have joined the National Science Foundation-sponsored program currently in session.

The other program, called the Research Experience for Teachers and Trainers (RETT), targets prospective and active alternative track teachers who come from professional science careers filling the need for math and science teachers nationwide. The program also provides summer research fellowship and internship opportunities for community college faculty and trainers working with alternative track teachers. This year, four teachers were accepted into the program, which is funded by a grant from the Department of Labor. Both programs began in June and run approximately 6-7 weeks.

"The overall goal of the programs is to give high school science teachers a fruitful summer experience whereby they engage in a novel, stimulating program which focuses on mentorship and to provide a resource to them throughout the year," said Joseph Montemarano, MIRTHE executive director.

Teachers graduating from these programs will prepare a plan for the upcoming school year by either incorporating their research into their school curriculum or creating web pages useful for other teachers. The MIRTHE outreach director follows up with a visit to each teacher's classroom to track implementation of the plan.

Encouraging Minority Participation

Detroit-area high school students in the Horizons-Upward Bound (HUB) program at Cranbrook Schools were invited to explore fuel cell technology through a summer program offered by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Students participating in SAE's "A World in Motion" program will build a car powered by fuel cells while applying math and science principles through highly-interactive experiences that incorporate the laws of physics, motion, flight, and electronics, according to SAE. The HUB program, which kicks off this week, prepares students with limited opportunity from the Detroit metropolitan area to enter and succeed in post-secondary education.

New York
With a $45,700 grant from the Motorola Foundation, Cornell University College of Engineering is hosting a week-long summer program to engage minority high school students in science and engineering. Thirty-three students from 15 states and three foreign countries were accepted into the program that begins this month. During the week, the students will work in teams on a college-level laboratory project, reprogramming bacterial DNA to produce complex proteins. The goal is to encourage minority students to explore engineering as a career option through lectures, labs, and interaction with Cornell faculty.

Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio