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“Project Engineer” exposes students to all disciplines of engineering

A simulated real-world disaster gave high-achieving high school students in Lamar University’s engineering Project Engineer2summer camp, an overview of all fields of engineering.

For one week, 26 students selected to participate in LU’s “Project Engineer” built and programmed robots to compete in a race to save chemicals from a burning tank farm. Students worked in teams to build the robots but then competed individually.

The pretend “tank farm” scenario allowed students to experience engineering not just observe it.

“It’s really cool to see kids at such a young age enjoying the aspects of engineering in a hands-on, personable way," said Megan Newsom, a project engineer for Chevron Philips, the company that sponsored the camp. “It’s not just Project Engineering 1something you see far away, but engineering is every day, right in front of you.”

The competition set-up required students to take their robots into a chemical plant farm that had been struck by lightning and was on fire. Students had five minutes to remove barrels of varying values of chemicals and put them in a safe area. The winner was the student who was able to remove, not just the most barrels of chemicals, but a cumulation of the most valuable barrels.

“There was some strategizing, because they had time to look at the field before the competition began and price out the chemicals and come up with some sort of strategy to try and get their highest score,” said Kelley Bradley, director of the makerspace in LU’s Science and Technology Building, where the camp and competition was held.

Students were also exposed to every aspect of engineering through the competition. “Each engineering field is incorporated into this camp,” said Newsom, who graduated from Lamar University with her engineering degree in 2017. “They have a chemical tank farm, which is the chemical side of it that they built, which is civil. They used electrical and mechanical engineering to build the robots and industrial by incorporating the cost of the barrels of the chemicals. It’s neat to see how they’re incorporating all fields.” 

During the week, in between building and coding robots for the final competition, LU engineering faculty met with the students and presented an overview of the five different engineering disciplines all offered at LU. As a result, West Orange sophomore camper, Darian Hardin changed his mind about the type of engineering he wants to pursue as a result.

“If you had asked yesterday, I might have said I want to do chemical but I think I like civil,” said Hardin. “I changed my mind. I just realized it’s something I’d like to do.”

Bradley says he hopes another week of “Project Engineer” camp can be added next summer. “We’d like to reach 50 students next summer,” said Bradley. “Forty students applied through their high schools, so we know there are students who want to be here.”