Future engineers build skills at UIC

Future engineers

Middle school and high school students collaborated with mechanical and industrial engineering faculty on project design during the UIC Engineering Summer Camp.

For three weeks in July, 125 high school and middle school students took over UIC’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering for the second annual UIC Engineering Summer Camp.

Mechanical and industrial engineering faculty members Yeow Siow and Jamison Szwalek organized the camp, which brought together qualified students from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs for a week of lively projects and camaraderie. The program was broken down into three one-week sessions and grouped the students together based on grade level.

The students were immersed in design and collaborative hands-on engineering projects, which included efficiency of wind turbine blades, aerodynamics of race cars, structure and safety of truss bridges, optimization of a LEGO production line, creation of complex shapes using software and 3-D printers and the design of a circuit. Faculty members carefully designed and customized the projects for each age group so the participants could see the results of their hard work unfold before their eyes.

“Through carefully curated team- and project-based activities, participants learned the values of peer reinforcement, self-reliance, critical thinking, as well as importance of engineering in the real world,” said Siow, camp director. “Participants discovered that, through science and engineering, one can make a difference.”

“I enjoyed all of the different projects we did and meeting all the different people. It was a very positive experience” said Keenan Brunner, who attends Oak Park and River Forest High School. “I enjoyed being able to design something, see it actually become what I wanted it to be, and watch it perform a task and succeed.”

Undergraduate engineering students acted as project facilitators, providing a nurturing and safe environment for learning. With a participant-to-chaperone ratio as low as 6 to 1, each participant was given the attention, care and patience needed to appreciate the technicality and meaning of the daily projects.

“It was a great experience getting to meet other people interested in engineering and learning more about engineering,” said Stephanie Zalinski of Niles, who attends Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette. “My favorite part of the week was making wind turbines. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to work hands-on with tools and this camp provided that opportunity.”

“I did this camp last year and I wanted to make sure it was different and it was. It was well organized and there were more people,” added Julian Sierra of Cary, who attends Northridge Preparatory School in Niles. “My favorite part was CAD (computer-aided design). Being able to make whatever I wanted was great.”

For some students, the engineering camp was made possible by a $5,000 donation from Innovating Worthy Projects Foundation. Through its support, UIC was able to offer full scholarships to about 16 children and families in need.

Roberta Wajrowski was thrilled with what the camp provided for her son.

“It was inexpensive, local, and I didn’t have to drive. I took the train down each day and it was convenient,” said Wajrowski, of Crystal Lake. “My son said he is learning a lot, and he is excited to learn new things.”

“The summer camp is an opportunity for students to experience life as a student on UIC’s campus, while discovering the creative aspects of engineering,” said Siow. “We had three times as many students as last year, who were inquisitive and curious about the world around them. Our goal is to get them to try new things, meet new people, and use their heads and hands to solve problems like an engineer.”

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