UD camp fosters interest in math, science and engineering

2:24 p.m., Aug. 1, 2013–As American society and the world advance technologically, many believe it is increasingly important to support children with a budding interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

To help expose local elementary students to the multi-faceted and innovative STEM fields, the University of Delaware College of Engineering hosted its annual Young Engineers Camp in collaboration with JPMorgan Chase July 22-26 on the Newark campus.

Designed for rising third through fifth graders, campers participated in a variety of activities such as building and racing solar cars, learning about friction and adhesion and experimenting with computer programming using Scratch.

The students also learned about composite materials from former camper Colleen Murray, who discovered her love of the subject by attending the program.

Currently a high school research intern testing carbon fiber composites at the University’s Center for Composite Materials, Murray returned to the program to share her enthusiasm for composites with current campers using an all-time kid favorite — chocolate.

She showed the campers how to test the durability of various kinds of chocolate by applying force to the bars with their fingers. Then, the students recorded whether the force exerted created a brittle fracture (clean break) or a ductile fracture (jagged break).

The lesson taught students that when composites made of different materials are under various conditions like extreme temperature and force, they act differently. After the activity was over the students got to eat their experiment, fractures and all.

“I’ve really enjoyed testing composites this summer,” Murray said, adding that the chocolate activity brings the concept of composites down to a simpler level that the young students can understand.

According to program coordinator Melissa Jurist, offering a wide variety of activities every year gives each student the opportunity to find something that interests them.

In addition, involving professors and graduate students allows the youngsters to develop role models.

“Having UD faculty and students of diverse backgrounds and all genders and ages allows the kids to see themselves in the field. Plus, I can’t think of another camp in which graduate students sit on the floor and share their research — and the fun of it — with kids,” Jurist said.

Murray said she believes being a former camp participant helped her gain the networking skills she needed to obtain her internship.

Now, she said, her goal is to attend college and enroll in an engineering program that will keep her in the composites field, and she believes the experience she’s gained this summer gives her a competitive edge.

“As a high school student starting to look at colleges, meeting and working with professors and making these connections that will help in college and beyond is an amazing experience,” Murray said.

Jurist, who agreed with Murray, said she believes the camp is only the first step.

“The best way to help kids reach their goals in STEM areas is to teach them to network and develop connections, give them encouragement and access to advanced programs,” she said.

Article by Collette L. O’Neal

Photos by Ambre Alexander

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