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Camp Engineers Excitement: Program Aims to Make Math, Science Relevant for Students

August 2, 2008

By Simone Sebastian, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

Aug. 2–The cheers were so deafening that some adults in the Arts Impact Middle School gym stuck fingers in their ears.

Students stomped rhythmically in the bleachers, chanted their team names and waved signs attesting to how cool they were.

The scene could have been from a state championship basketball game. But the title these kids were competing for had more to do with physics than field goals.

“That excitement … to that magnitude, I didn’t expect it,” said Keisha Slaughter, who oversees the engineering camp. “My ears were ringing. It’s exciting for me to see students that excited about learning.”

More than 200 students launched the Columbus school district’s Summer Engineering Experience for Kids, or SEEK, camp. The three-week program ended yesterday when students’ cars and gliders competed in the school gym for titles of best design, coolest trick and farthest flight.

SEEK is the latest project in Columbus’ large-scale push to get students interested in science and math fields.

The students, in grades six through eight, crafted gliders and vehicles under the coaching of college engineering students. The program was free and provided students with transportation and meals.

“It made me a lot more interested, and I appreciate those vehicles more,” said Shalil Tillman, 13. “It’s just a car, but they’re a lot more complicated. Putting them together is very interesting.”

Columbus schools recently have made engineering and other science fields a priority both in classrooms and in extracurricular activities, noting high demand for employees in those areas. The effort also is a way to improve test scores.

Three high schools — East, Linden-McKinley and Eastmoor — and four Linden-area elementary schools will begin offering science-focused programs in the next couple of years. Linden-McKinley recently received a $600,000 grant to transform into a math and science powerhouse for seventh- through 12th-graders.

By the 2009-10 school year, the district expects to offer after-school clubs in every middle and high school where students will study things such as rocketry and robotics, Slaughter said.

The clubs and summer camp are part of the Columbus STEM initiative — an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math — for which Slaughter is project manager. The effort, formed this year, is a partnership with organizations including Battelle, Ohio State University, Honda, the National Society of Black Engineers and the Educational Council.

Rich Rosen, Battelle’s vice president of education and philanthropy, said the effort has received national attention. The National Society of Black Engineers, which supports a similar camp in Washington, D.C., is using Columbus as the model to push more STEM programs across the country.

The camp “shows them why (engineering) is exciting in a way that is relevant and matches with the interest of students at these ages,” Rosen said. “When students are engaged in gears and flying, they are seeing the application of things as they are learning about them.”

ssebastian@dispatch.com

Columbus schools have made math and science a priority, noting high demand for workers in those fields.

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