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WYSE Camps Treat Guys and Gals to an Engineering Smorgasbord


Two Discover Bioengineering campers enjoy a bioinstrumentation activity.

July 27, 2015

Like Illinois' cutting-edge GAMES camps, the five summer 2015 WYSE (Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering) camps are designed to show high school students how fun and exciting engineering can be...and to encourage them to choose it as a career. What sets WYSE apart from GAMES camps, which are for girls only, is that it exposes guys to engineering too. What also sets these camps apart is that while two focus on specific disciplines (like GAMES), the other three are designed to give students a taste of all of the different types of engineering available—kind of like an engineering smorgasbord.

Under the leadership of Engineering's Outreach Coordinator, Sahid Rosado, WYSE has experienced a number of changes this summer. For example, many departments revamped their curricula, switching activities they had been doing for the last 10 years. Also, Discover Engineering, previously only for sophomores, now includes rising freshmen, giving them an introductory look at what engineering is and what specific disciplines do. Also for freshmen and sophomores, a new camp was instituted this year to help them do just what its name implies—Discover Bioengineering. Campers who participated in the new camp experienced a variety of bioengineering activities which ranged from strongly in the biology camp (cell culture, tissue engineering, and biomaterials); to completely machine, such as tools used to study or measure biology (optics, biomechanics, computational biology, bioinstrumentation) or mimic it (biomimetics); to somewhere in between the two (bio-bots powered by muscle cells and controlled with electrical pulses).


A Discover Bioengineering camper rides a stationary bike to get her heart rate up as campers learn about how bioinstrumentation works.

Rising juniors and seniors also had a chance to find out about the different engineering disciplines during the two Exploring Your Options camps offered during the summer of 2015. These camps allowed participants to explore most of the engineering disciplines offered at Illinois: Aerospace; Bioengineering; Chemical; Civil; Electrical; Industrial/Enterprise Systems; Materials; Mechanical; Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological; and Physics. As one 2015 WYSE camper put it: “It’s definitely helped me to see what each different field is like.” And finally, another new camp, Exploring Mechanical Engineering gave upperclassmen the chance to do just that to determine if mechanical engineering might be the career for them.


In Dr. Hsiao-Wecksler's Biomechanics lab, Discover Bioengineering campers discover motion capture; here, with as sensors attached to their bodies, they watch a large screen on which a computer program has captured their movements.


Two WYSE campers in the new Exploring Mechanical Engineering camp make a wind turbine.

Because many of the rising juniors and seniors will soon begin applying to colleges, Rosado and company wanted students to find out what being an engineering student at Illinois is like and how to apply. So they held an Engineering Night.

For example, Andrea Wynn, Recruitment and Retention Coordinator of the Morrill Engineering Program, gave a short presentation about resources the College offers engineering students. Then, a panel of nine current students talked about some of the College’s different resources: Women in Engineering, Study-Abroad Office, IEFX for Summer Scholars, etc. Rosado reports that the event was a big success:

“Kids were non-stop asking questions. It was great. We’re all like, ‘U of I is great!’ So that’s really our target, because they’re all going to be in college soon, so why not U of I?”

Rosado also arranged for a campus tour for students and their parents when they check in on Sunday. This allowed parents to see the campus as well, because Rosado knows that when a high schooler is considering college, it never hurts to have the parents in Illinois’ corner. When asked about the tour, parents replied: “‘Oh, my God, yes. It was so great!’ So it’s also another opportunity for them to see what we have here,” she explains.


Left to right: Grace Wackerman and Karolina Jozwiak wait for the Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological session to begin.

Campers who attended one of the first camps of the summer, Exploring Your Options Session I (June 7–13), tended to be considering careers in engineering and appreciated finding out what the different disciplines are all about.

For instance, calling the camp “so much fun," Grace Wackerman, a rising senior at Lyons Township High School in La Grange, Illinois, responded, “Maybe,” regarding whether she’s going into engineering, but still appreciated learning about the different disciplines: “Well, I’ve definitely gotten a lot of exposure to the different types of engineering in the camp,” she reports. “So far, I really like bioengineering, civil engineering, and chemical engineering…I mean it’s definitely helped me to see what each different field is like, but I’m not exactly sure yet.”

Grace Wackerman and Karolina Jozwiak
Left to right: Grace Wackerman and Karolina Jozwiak,and a couple of other campers get a tour of one of NPRE's (Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering) labs during Exploring Your Options camp.

Committed to becoming an engineer, Karolina Jozwiak, a rising junior at Lake Park High School in Roselle, Illinois (a Chicago suburb), indicates that Exploring Your Options definitely helped her decide which discipline she wants to major in: “Yea. I think mechanical. I was thinking about civil, but now it’s just mechanical. I like it better. And I think I’ll just minor in other stuff, maybe computer or something, but it’s definitely going to be engineering.”

Like many of the other students, Connor Powers, a rising senior at Bellarmine College Prep High School in San Jose, California also appreciated the camp's emphasis on the different engineering disciplines.

“I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do...It’s been really helpful so far in helping me figure out what field of engineering I want to go into,” he says.


Connor Powers (right) and a couple of other Exploring Your Options campers experience one of NPRE's (Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering) labs.

Powers also admits that he was drawn to Exploring Your Options because it was shorter than many of the other camps out there.

“I was looking for something to do with engineering over the summer, and most of the other university engineering camps were four or five weeks long, and this one was less of a time commitment.”

Like Powers, rising junior Michael Pauls from Des Plaines, Illinois is still deciding what field he wants to go into. “I definitely want to go into science or a math—a STEM field. I just do not know if I want to go strictly math or strictly physics or engineering.”

Did he find the WYSE camp helpful? “It’s been a good experience,” Pauls indicated. “Yea, this has helped. It’s really shown me just the different disciplines of engineering and what they’re really like.”


Exploring MechSE campers shape memory plastic while creating their design.

New this summer, the Exploring MechSE camp gave rising high school juniors and seniors a taste of what it’s like to be a mechanical engineer as they teamed up to do several hands-on activities:

During a shape memory project, campers got a chance to design a "real-world" project. Here's the scenario: A manufacturer of watermelon jam was losing some of the product due to breakage of jars during the manufacturing process. Student teams were tasked with shaping "memory plastic" to create a design that would safely convey the product from start to finish without breaking any jars during the process.

Another project was to design and build prosthetics. Plus the main project, which students worked on all week, was to design, build, then test wind turbines. In addition, students got to do 3D printing, experience a cleanroom and a windfarm, and learn about non-Newtonian fluids. To see some real-life engineers in action, students took a field trip to Illinois' Research Park to visit Caterpillar and Vesuvius.


Nicholas Wirtel (left) tests the memory plastic design he and his teammates made.

Nicholas Wirtel, a rising junior from Phoenix, Arizona, appreciated the variety of activities the camp offered: “It’s pretty fun. There’s a lot of interesting things we can do here, and every day is jam-packed with a bunch of stuff that they have us do.”

What are some things Wirtel learned?

“Well first of all, I learned that 3D printing is really awesome. And I’ve learned about the company Vesuvius. They make products that help reinforce the structures that carry molten steel. So we went on a tour at their facility and that was pretty cool. And we’ve also gone to the Caterpillar place. That was really fun, seeing how different designs of cars can affect how far they go.”


A team of Exploring MechSE campers test their memory plastic design.

Wirtel reports that both of his parents came to Illinois; his dad studied civil engineering.

“So they were pretty big on me coming here,” he admits. Does Wirtel hope to follow in his dad’s footsteps and become an engineer?

“Yea. Definitely.”

Is he going to become a civil engineer, too, like his dad, or did coming to Exploring MechSE sway him in the direction of mechanical?

“Uh...again, that’s yet to be determined," Wirtel indicates. "That looks like a pretty fun option right now.”

A rising senior at Chicago's Taft High School, Maria Robbins came to the camp to help her decide if she wants to become an engineer.

“I’ve always been interested in engineering. I thought I’d take the summer to figure out if I really want to do it or not, so I figured taking a camp or a program like this is the best to see if I’m really interested in it, and what it takes to be an engineer, and all that it entails."

Robbins appreciated the camp’s many hands-on activites:


Maria Robbins (left) and her Exploring Mechanical Engineering teammates test a robotic hand they built during the hands-on activity about prosthetics.

“I like the fact that I can use my hands to do things and let my imagination do what it will... just make goofy-looking things that don’t work half of the time, but it's fun to just get in there and get hands-deep in it and figure out what works.”

So does she think engineering is the career for her?

“It just might be,” says Robbins. “We’ll see how the rest of this week goes.”

Calling the fledgling Exploring MechSE “a pretty great camp,” rising junior Chris Abarro from Chicago reports learning a lot about engineering...and how to work with people:


Two Exploring Mechanical Engineering teammates discuss the prosthetic device they're building.

“I’ve learned a lot of things, like more formulas about physics, how to construct things, how to act around other people better, a lot of other social norms and engineering things that I should know.”

Did he come up against a difference of opinion ever between the people in the group? “Occasionally,” says Abarro, “but then after it all we managed to work it out and get some goal that we all wanted to have. Abarro indicated that coming to the camp has clinched it for him. He’s decided he wants to become a mechanical engineer. He also hopes to come to Illinois.


A WYSE camper in the new Exploring Mechanical Engineering camp does a hands-on activity making a wind turbine.

“I’ll come here. I wanna go here. If I get enough money to come here, but, yea, I love it here. It’s a great place. Great people, and I love it.”

Rising senior Mattie DeVore from Wichita, Kansas, especially appreciated the hands-on activities: “Yea, I like the hands-on stuff too. It makes for more focus…There’s definitely a lot of building projects, which is what I’ve liked the most, because a lot of times they’ll have you do lectures and no one actually pays attention in lectures, you don’t really do much. And so I really like how they have stuff to do.”

Is DeVore interested in engineering? “Definitely. I’m really interested in mechanical or computer science.” Does DeVore think she’ll come to Illinois? “Definitely, it’s one of the top colleges I’m looking at right now...I love the campus,” she adds, “and it seems to be an awesome school.”

Joe Muskin, co-coordinator of Exploring Mechanical Engineering, along with Professors Matt West and Elif Ertekin, explains why MechSE started the camp:

"We added the MechSE camp this year because we wanted to reach a wider number of students— to pull more people in to consider careers in engineering," and according to Muskin, the camp had the impact they hoped it would:


An Exploring Mechanical Engineering camper watches as she and her teammates test the wind turbine they designed.

"It was a great bunch of students for our first Exploring MechSE camp; they were very motivated, intelligent, and creative! The camp was wonderful and each participant showed strong potential to make a wonderful engineer. On the post-camp survey, all the students indicated that they were considering or strongly considering a career in mechanical engineering, and 80% said that they would probably apply to the U of I for that degree."


Exploring MechSE camper uses a drill press to make his team's wind turbine.

Muskin says MechSE faculty were excited about the new camp: "It allowed a greater number of faculty to get involved, which we needed. We had no problem getting the faculty involved. We had so many involved that we had completely new activities for the week. Each of these activities were really engaging, and we will roll them out to area schools this coming school year."

Also involved in MechSE's portion in Exploring Your Options, Muskin indicates that he finds it rewarding...especially when students end up coming to Illinois.

"It is great to see these students get excited about mechanical engineering. It is really great to pass a university student in the halls and have them stop me and say that part of their reason for coming to MechSE was the exposure they had in the Exploring Your Options camp. That really makes my day!"

With this year's camp season barely in the books, Outreach Coordinator Sahid Rosado is already planning another new camp for next year: another specialty WYSE camp: Exploring NPRE.

Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.
More: 8-12 Outreach, Summer Camp, WYSE, 2015

For additional istem articles on 2015 engineering camps, please see:

WYSE camper works on wind turbine
An Exploring MechSE camper works on his team's wind turbine design.