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High Schoolers Get Taste of Real Life Engineering in MIT Summer Camp

A program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this summer introduced 22 Boston high school students to a heady taste of engineering. Each was a participant in MIT's Engineering Design Workshop, a month-long program that provides them with the hands-on fun and challenges of engineering. The camp is run on a pay-what-you-can basis, and most of the students attend for free, according to camp director Ed Moriarty. Moriarty is an instructor with the Edgerton Center, which normally provides hands-on educational experiences for MIT undergraduates.

Projects developed during the summer program vary, depending on the interests of the students. On the first day of camp, they all take part in brainstorming sessions. Typically, the "counselors," a mix of undergraduate and graduate students from MIT and other local universities, present a few ideas, and the students decide which projects they'd most like to work on.

"I don't care what they end up doing. I just care that they care," Moriarty noted in a video about the camp. "These are student-driven [projects]. Students choose the projects, do the work, and get the accomplishment of finishing the project."

This year's camp had five projects: a modified Razor scooter, equipped with a motor and brakes; a sound system of giant tower speakers; remote-controlled devices, including cars, fish, birds, and a flying turtle; a mosaic tiger meticulously assembled from pieces of stained glass; and an electric cello.

Each student was allotted $100 to spend on materials for his or her group's project. Thus, those projects that drew more students had a larger budget to spend. The counselors helped them purchase supplies online and worked with them on the construction from the ground up.

The modified Razor scooter can attain speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. The stained-glass tiger is slated to be installed in the lobby of a local high school this fall. And last week, on the morning of the last day of camp, a happy group of campers listened to music on the finished pair of booming tower speakers, which will be left behind as a gift for the lab.

"We teach them soft skills, cooperation, what they can do when they work together as engineers," said John McGoldrick, an alumnus of MIT and a mentor in the program. "We try to instill in them a love of engineering and an appreciation of how much they can accomplish when they work together. Hopefully, they'll bring it back to their schools and the whole thing spreads."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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