Engineering Exposure: STEM learning wrapped in summer fun for middle schoolers

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Samson Knapp of L’Anse tests his popsicle glider at Michigan Technological University Friday alongside Donna Fard, a Michigan Technological University researcher who works on the large-scale gliders Tech uses on Lake Superior.

HOUGHTON — Some middle school students from Baraga and L’Anse spent the week at Michigan Technological University learning everything from the logistics of running railroads to how to handle a remotely operated vehicle.

The Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College STEM Outreach Department held the second of three-week-long science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs. This is the third year of a four-year grant from the Department of Education for the STEM Academy, and the second year bringing students to Michigan Tech for summer STEM camps.

“We try to mimic something that would be similar to what you’re experience at (Summer Youth Programs)” said Karen Colbert, co-coordinator of the program.

The goal with the summer program is to avoid overlap with the activities that already go on during the school year, which include robotics, archery and string instruments.

“We do a little bit of physics when we do archery, so we’ve asked (co-coordinator) Joan (Chadde), let’s try to do some environmental engineering, let’s try to do some transportation, civil engineering, minerals, rocks, aggregates — the other aspect of engineering that we don’t necessarily get to provide on campus,” Colbert said.

The week before, they studied forestry, learning about the Great Lakes and the interconnectedness of the water cycle and the food chain. In July, they’ll study mathematics and computer applications.

“Many of these students, they don’t necessarily know what they want to do when they grow up, so we’re trying to give them exposure to science, technology engineering and math, so that they would have that as an option when they’re thinking about what they want to do,” Colbert said. “We try to teach students whatever you do, you need to make sure it leaves an impact on your community.”

Samson Knapp of L’Anse came to the program on a scholarship from the KBOCC.

“I was so happy, and it was really awesome,” he said. “I told my grandpa, and he was proud of me.”

His favorite activity of the week was the one he had just concluded Friday, which involved building a popsicle glider to be tested in an aquarium that stood in for Lake Superior.

“My dad is a machinist and my grandpa’s a mechanic, so I’m right in the middle of the mechanical engineering type of thing,” he said. “When we finally got to mechanical engineering, I was like (excited inhalation).”

He also wanted to come because of another family link: his mother is a Tech alum.

“I’ve always to go to Michigan Tech, because I like engineering, and I know this is one of the top engineering schools in the world,” he said. “This was just a really great opportunity.”