This summer, the University of Arizona College of Engineering invited over 200 high school students from around the country to build an experience they would never forget.
From working with professionals to build circuits and design light boxes to forging their own tools in the UA’s Machine and Welding Center, the UA’s Summer Engineering Academy offered hands on experience in engineering and introduced students to several career pathways within the field.
“A lot of students don’t really know what engineering is, but someone has been telling them for their whole life that they’re good at math and science, so they should be an engineer,” said SEA Director Lori Huggins. “This really gives them an idea of how diverse engineering is and the many different majors within the college.”
SEA is an annual camp that offers six weeks of programming for high school students. Each week is designed with a particular theme in mind, so students can attend the camp that interests them the most. This year, the program included topics such as engineering and health, technology and living.
“We did a lot of projects,” said Bryce Lundberg, a senior at Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria. “We built a cardboard boat, worked for two days on them and then raced them against each other, which was really fun. We built hammers with CNC machines. We went to a mine and got to melt down some iron. So many cool projects.”
For the first time in its over 30-year history, SEA also had a week specifically geared toward women , bringing in 25 high school girls with a passion for engineering.
As a junior at the UA and the head counselor for SEA, Clare Cronin is one of only three undergraduate women enrolled in the university’s materials engineering major.
“It was so cool to have so many girls that were genuinely interested in engineering,” she said. “We went to Desert Metal Craft and they were slamming hot metal with these hammers, which is typically portrayed as super manly. So, seeing a 15-year-old girl just going at it is so cool because we can see this is where our future is headed.”
According to Huggins, the UA College if Engineering is focused on providing opportunities to all underrepresented communities. Women make up 32% of the college’s freshman class, which is well above the 19% national average.
This was Cronin’s second year serving as a camp counselor for SEA, but she also participated in the camp as a high school student at Xavier College Prep in Phoenix.
“This camp is the entire reason I’m at the UA right now. I’m from Phoenix and I was dead set on going out of state for college, but then I came to this camp and fell in love with the campus,” she said.
Cronin met her current college roommate when she attended SEA as a high school senior. Being able to build relationships with people and learn about engineering at the same time was one of the most memorable parts of her experience, she said.
During the last week of camp, which focused on engineering and living, the students learned about water engineering and participated in the Aqualibrium water competition. After learning about water supply and distribution, they worked together to equally distribute three liters of water between three containers, which served as reservoirs.
“These exercises are really helping them to understand where their water comes from and the physics that are involved,” said graduate student and SEA instructor Christopher Horstman. “If some of this hand-on stuff was available to me in high school, it would have made more sense to me.”
The exposure to several different types of engineering and career paths is what makes this program rare, and not just for the high school students, according to the SEA staff.
“When I started camp, I was enrolled as a civil engineering major, and by the end of camp, I was in mining engineering. So even as a counselor, the camp actually made me change my major,” said camp counselor and UA junior Ryan Amos.
As a high school student, Lundberg said the camp made him more excited for college and for becoming an engineer. He hopes to go into aerospace and mechanical engineering and attend the UA. According to Huggins, 35% of students who have participated in an SEA camp over the years have decided to attend the UA.
“The best part of this camp is that it offers hands-on experience, instead of just sitting and have someone tell them about a major, they actually get to do something with it,” said Cronin. “They get to see it in action and understand how it affects the world, how it helps people and just get a real-world sense of what they could be doing.”