Professors mentor high school students in summer engineering camp
Shavona Dixon jerked the neon green rope on the trebuchet to launch a softball in a high arc out over McDaniel’s upper field. The high school junior from Baltimore grinned as she cheered along with her teammates when the ball landed with a thud near the 150-foot mark.
Four teams from McDaniel’s Summer Science Academy’s week-long “Engineering Lab: The Science of Building Things” are competing to see who can fine-tune their trebuchet (a catapult-like device) to hurl the softball the farthest into the field. It’s the fourth and final competition in a week filled with using science to design, calculate and build rockets, bridges, remote-controlled rescue boats and the siege engine known as a trebuchet.
The Science Academy, created and mentored by McDaniel Physics professor Jeff Marx and Chemistry professor Brian Wladkowski, offers a variety of week-long science camps – from forensics to rocketry to Sumo-bots and real world physical science – for high school students over the course of the summer. Those who complete one session, and many return for one or two more, are eligible for $10,000-a-year scholarships to McDaniel through a program already charting success in its second year.
Dixon, a participant in Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore who attends Friends School, is unlike most of her 19 fellow campers in that she isn’t really into science, math and engineering. But she is creative – and has savored the discoveries she’s made.
“I had never heard of a trebuchet,” she says, explaining that she is mostly interested in arts and humanities and is learning 13 languages. “Before this camp, I never thought you could build a boat out of Styrofoam and Legos or a bridge out of wood and string that would hold over 200 pounds.”
Shavona Dixon tugs on the line to set her group's trebuchet in motion to hurl a softball out over the college's field hockey field.
Nearly half of the students in the Engineering Lab are women. For many of the campers, men and women, the science camp is an opportunity to check out McDaniel. Camper Ali Tomasevich is more interested in biology or biomedical engineering than in the engineering of building things.
“But this has been a lot of fun, and it’s given me a chance to look at McDaniel (as a possible college choice),” says the high school senior from Harleysville, Pa. “I had no idea about the science behind a trebuchet – and now I do.”
Colton Gonzalez, a high school sophomore from Sykesville, Md., hasn’t given a lot of thought yet to where he wants to go to college.
“I am sure about studying something in science and engineering – but right now I’m exploring different areas of science trying to figure out which one,” he says.