27 Jun

Campers enjoy fun with engineering

Unknown | June 27th, 2011

By Amber Marra, Charleston Daily Mail

Students have been making stones float at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology.
Well, in some cases it’s concrete mixed with Styrofoam, but that’s all they have to work with at Camp STEM, which is geared toward students with a passion for science, technology, engineering or math.

The camp attracts students from across the state – plus one from Virginia Beach, Va. – bringing them WVU Tech’s campus. This year there were 34 participants.

On Thursday, students added the final touches to two of the camp’s biggest hands-on projects: Concrete canoes and roller coasters made of paper.

Classes focusing on an array of science, technological and engineering fields are offered to the students. Paul Steranka, interim dean of the Leonard C. Nelson College of Engineering and Sciences, teaches an energy systems basics class at the camp.

“These classes are basically watered down versions of what we’re teaching our college students on a regular basis,” Steranka said. “In a lot of ways it gives them a little flavor of what it’s like to go to college.”

In order to teach civil engineering from a hands-on point of view, campers molded mini versions of a 16-foot concrete canoe originally created by WVU Tech students last year. That craft holds four people and is made from a mixture of concrete and lightweight fiberglass.

Because such a mixture might be dangerous for students to handle, Travis Adcock, 17, found another special ingredient to mix into his fast-drying concrete.

“Well, Styrofoam floats and concrete generally doesn’t,” he laughed as his counselors took bets on whose canoe could hold the most weight.

The Styrofoam mold that shapes the concrete has to be carefully crafted. A canoe that is too deep could capsize, while one that is too shallow could flip when weight is placed on it.

In a dusty, cluttered lab in the bottom floor of the engineering building last week, students finished up their creations, which are about a foot to a foot-and-a-half in length.

Upstairs, wails of frustration echoed through the hall where all of the students congregated on the floor to build roller coasters out of a rather non-traditional material: Paper.

“Everybody talks about engineering in the coal mining industry here, but we want to show them that there are some really neat, fun things to do with engineering too,” said Kimberlyn Gray, camp director.

Despite the complicated nature of the project, precise plans of attack were few and far between.
“We don’t have one. We just come up with an idea and do it. It was really bad at first, but now we’re troubleshooting it,” said Ben Wallace, 14.

Each group of students working on their roller coasters crouched around their projects and took up the entire stretch of hallway in the engineering building. Gray didn’t want to put them in separate classrooms, but said most groups requested distance to deter tactical eavesdropping.

“They’re getting quite competitive,” she said.

The roller coasters used marbles as carts and students got points for how many hills, loops and funnels their marble could make it through.

“When we launch our ball the goal is to get it to go down as seamlessly as possible and it doesn’t stop or get stuck,” said Justin Whittington, 15.

The students tested their canoes and roller coasters on Friday for their parents.

“The roller coasters help them because it makes them take into account the speed, structure and framework of it. It’s a bit tedious, but they do get to show their parents all of their work,” said Chris Young, a counselor at the camp and computer engineering major at WVU Tech.

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