Engineering camp attracts, inspires students

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
How do you get middle- and high-school students interested in engineering? Get them to build a water balloon-launching catapult.

The Air Force Academy and the Society of American Military Engineers held their 12th-annual engineering and construction camp in Jacks Valley June 24-30, using exercises such as building concrete beams, water balloon launchers and an event called "how to trap a bear" to get a group of 72 teens interested in pursuing an engineering career.

Army Lt. Col. Scott Prosuch, a Colorado Springs resident and chairman of SAME's Engineering and Construction Camps Committee, partnered with the Academy's Civil Engineering Department in 1999 to create a program similar to the Academy's existing Field Engineering Readiness Laboratory.

"We took a subset of that program, because we only have the kids for one week, and we built a hands-on engineering curriculum around that," Mr. Prosuch said.

The SAME camp borrows on FERL's "build first, design later" theme, said Capt. Adam Strecker, a DFCE instructor and officer in charge of this year's camp.

"For FERL, everything you learn about the design of a concrete beam applies toward your senior-year courses," Captain Strecker said. "If you don't see the application of it first, you have a harder time understanding the details later. Seeing it firsthand out here helps students relate. The SAME camp takes the same approach: hands-on activities allow them to see what engineers' work ends up looking like in the field."

SAME camps attract students from around the world. One of this year's participants, 16-year-old Sarah Kim, traveled from Seoul, South Korea, to participate.

"My chemistry teacher recommended it to me, so I decided to apply for it," said Sarah, who had not previously been to Colorado.

Maggie Boylan, also 16, flew from Smithfield, Va., to attend the camp.

"I looked at the website and activities, and it seemed like a lot of fun," she said.

The SAME camp does not go into the same level of detail as FERL, however, in part due to the time constraint, Captain Strecker said.

"We try and touch on engineering topics more broadly," he said. "FERL is a fun activity, but we try to focus more on the fun aspect for high school kids to keep them engaged. There's more problem solving and creativity as opposed to curriculum-based activity."

Cadets and experts from military and civilian engineering fields lead and mentor the students through the six-day camp. Mr. Prosuch said one of the camp's goals is to keep students and their mentors connected after the camp ends.

"This isn't just a 'do it and let the kids go' (event)," Mr. Prosuch said. "When mentors sign up, they not only have these kids for the week they're at camp, but we ask them to maintain that relationship long-term. It's amazing how well it works."

Captain Strecker, a native of Littleton, Colo., was a mentor for the 2007 camp.
The total registration fee to attend a SAME camp is $550. Students must pay half the total fee, or $275. Students must be U.S. citizens on a high school track that will provide a basis for attending an accredited engineering college or university and must have an expressed intent to pursue a degree in architecture, engineering or a related field, according to the SAME Engineering and Construction Camps website,

Additionally, to attend the Academy camp, students must provide some proof of an expressed interest in applying to a service academy or ROTC program. Sarah said she's still exploring her options. Maggie said she plans to apply to the Air Force Academy.
Students who have attended a camp may apply for SAME college scholarships that pay $1,250 per year for up to four years, as long as the students continue to maintain the scholarship requirements, Mr. Prosuch said. Students who attend a service academy do not receive the scholarships.

Leaders and Mentors

The following individuals served as flight commanders and mentors for the 2011 SAME/Academy Engineering and Construction Camp. Flight commanders are listed first for each flight, followed by the mentors for that flight.

A Flight: Cadet 1st Class Morgan Grohol, Julianna Wilson and Eduardo Martinez
B Flight: Cadet 1st Class Steven Conradi, Amy Martin and Erich Flessner
C Flight: Cadet 1st Class Kurt DeRussy, Ashley Alguire and 2nd Lt. Thomas Bowen
D Flight: Cadet 1st Class Martin Madsen, Briana Noonan and 1st Lt. Patrick Bacue
E Flight: Cadet 1st Class Richard Boyle, Colleen Curry and 2nd Lt. Eduardo Nieto
F Flight: Coast Guard Academy Cadet Alexa Ward, Capt. Jeremy Kinne and Alex Kirchhoff