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Children learn Dark Knight’s secrets

June 12, 2011

By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
sdnedu@bellsouth.net

Superman can fly. Spiderman can climb walls. But Batman has more gadgets and toys than all those other superheroes combined.
Batman was the inspiration for an engineering camp for boys in 7th to 9th grades held at Mississippi State University last week.
“The boys could tell you that Batman is the only superhero with no powers,” said Eric Heiselt with the Bagley College of Engineering at MSU. “Everything is dependent on gadgets.”
The camp brought together 20 boys from Mississippi to Louisiana to Indiana all with an interest in engineering.
“I’ve always loved to put stuff together and take it apart,” said Zachary Solomon, 13, who hopes to one day be an architect. “I really like making stuff.”
The boys learned how to put many of the basic principles of engineering into action by making bottle rockets, simple hovercrafts, and basic motors using magnets and a battery. With each project, the boys are presented with a problem and some materials to solve it, but the design is up to them.
“They look at engineering as really heavy on the math and science, which is true, but we need the creativity, too,” Heiselt said. “This is the age group to capture their imagination. And they have the problem solving skills.”
The camp also acts as a recruiting tool for the university, which is looking to increase enrollment in their engineering programs.
“Here at Bagley we’ve been doing summer academies for about 10 years. We’ve never offered one for middle-level boys. We’ve got great programs with a huge, established reputation for young women because we’re trying to bring in as many young women into the field as possible,” Heiselt said. “What we were finding was that we were leaving the boys out. Our numbers are showing that we’re having fewer and fewer engineers enrolled. We’re losing engineering majors across the board.”
The boys paid $250 to participate in the week-long, overnight camp, but the university pays nearly $1,000 per boy to cover the costs of housing, food and supplies. They see it as a good investment for the future of the engineering program.
Several of the boys said they already have their hearts set on MSU. Lee Arthur, 13, said that he’d like to go to State, if he doesn’t get into his first choice: MIT.
The camp also gave them advice on the classes they will need to take to get them into esteemed engineering programs, such as advanced math classes.
“We sit down with them and say, ‘Okay, you’re in seventh, eighth, or ninth grade. Here are the classes you need to take. Here are the areas where you really need to push yourselves,’” Heiselt said. “We encourage them to look at taking geometry online, so they can get that out of the way and look at taking trig and calculous.”
The engineering college will be hosting 11 programs throughout the summer, including several engineering camps for women and a computer science camp. The programs are still accepting applications. To apply, visit www.bagley.msstate.edu.
“Engineering is a great lens to bring the science, technology and math together,” said Heiselt. “Engineers try to solve the problems and make the world better. That’s what we do.”

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