This June, twenty-four high school students attended the B.L.A.C.K. in Engineering Summer Academy Camp offered by the College of Engineering at UGA. The Building Leaders through Analysis, Conceptualization, and Knowledge (B.L.A.C.K.) in Engineering summer academy camp focus is to expand young adults’ experiences in engineering through critical thinking and teamwork with a specialty in electrical and computer engineering. This is the second year of the B.L.A.C.K. Engineering Summer Academy camp with generous funds donated to support two camps aimed at improving access to engineering for historically marginalized groups. Women Experience Creativity, Excitement, and Learning (ExCEL) in Engineering is the other camp being offered to focus on young women in STEM.
The cost of the residential camp is fully covered by a UGA Engineering Summer STEM Academy scholarship fund, provided by the NCR Foundation of the NCR Corporation in Atlanta, GA. “NCR graciously donated $100,000 to the College of Engineering to support the two camps (B.L.A.C.K. in Engineering and Women ExCEL in Engineering) each year for two years,” explained Dr. Stephan Durham, Assistant Dean for Student Success and Outreach, whose Office of Student Success oversees the camps. The funds help cover the entire cost of each student’s participation in the camp, including registration, campus lodging, meals, and engineering materials.
“Students are from all over. Most students were local to Georgia but we had students from Maryland, Alabama, and more. We had over 300 applicants this cycle and students are chosen based on financial need and propensity/interest to pursue engineering,” said Assistant Professor Dr. Racheida Lewis, B.L.A.C.K. in Engineering camp instructor. Students learn about the camp “primarily by word of mouth. As a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. I shared the information with my sorority sisters and they shared it with their networks (many of whom work in K-12 education),” said Dr. Lewis.
Dr. Lewis designed and implemented the curriculum for the B.L.A.C.K. in Engineering summer camp. When asked how she developed the camp, Dr. Lewis explained, “from my end, primarily balancing a curriculum that has the right amount of difficulty. I only have these students for a week, they all have different backgrounds, and there’s not enough time for me to really tailor this to specific students’ needs. BUT, by creating tasks that build in difficulty, students can still work at their own pace and come out with the same understanding.
“We worked primarily with the Arduino Uno which is a microcontroller board that can receive a code and implement instructions. This is usually in conjunction with a circuit built on a breadboard. So, students got the opportunity to build circuits, learn a bit of coding, and test out Ohm’s Law.”
This year, Dr. Lewis had support from two exceptional undergraduate student assistants in the College of Engineering, Harsh Gupta and Angela Sun. Harsh and Angela provided support to the student campers throughout the week by assisting them with their projects.
When asked about what stood out the most for Dr. Lewis, she reflected, “…the highlight for me was seeing the joy from the students when they finally figured something out. Some managed to do some really creative things and they were very inquisitive about how what they learned this week could translate into an engineering major.”
When asked if these camps will be offered every summer, Dr. Lewis replied, “I sure hope it will be offered every summer. I hope that we can offer more than just one camp, maybe a Part 1 and Part 2 or even two versions of Part 1 because the interest is so high. I would also love to create a research project around the impact this camp has on students’ future decisions regarding school and major.” Dr. Durham shared that there are plans to submit another funding request to continue offering these hands-on summer programs for motivated youth who are curious about exploring engineering.