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Campus Hosts High School Students for Summer Engineering Innovation Program

by Aliyah DeVille

Girls collaborating on noodle project  

July brought classrooms full of future biomedical, chemical, mechanical, and civil engineers onto campus and they weren’t graduate students. They were ambitious high school juniors and seniors who were looking to get a jump on their future (demanding) careers through Engineering Innovation, a program offered by the JHU Whiting School of Engineering at several locations nationwide.

Through lectures and hands-on experiences in a lab, these students learned what it really means to be an engineer and discovered what type of engineering best suits their talents and interests. And they all said it’s also worth mentioning that they made some great friends.

On a day early in the program’s run, three girls, Emily Pishgahzadeh, Haley Secen, and Maya Lewis chatted loudly and at times laughed hysterically as they put together a model for their spaghetti bridge. Each attends a different high school, but one would be quick to think these girls had been friends for more than just nine days.

Pishgahzadeh, a rising senior from Churchill High School, said that in addition to the friends she’s made, her favorite aspect of the program is the hands-on experience.

“I want to go into biomedical engineering so being able to have actual time in a lab has been really helpful in teaching me more about the field,” she said.

The lab experience is what draws students from far and wide to the Montgomery County Campus. In fact, this year, two students came from as far as New York. (Other students hailed from Maryland, Virginia, and D.C.) The three transferable Johns Hopkins credits that the students can earn if they graduate with a passing grade also doesn’t hurt when it comes to attracting more participants.

“That’s also a big plus,” said Lewis, who will be a senior at the National Cathedral School in the fall. “It’s like I’m getting a head start.”

The credits, however, don’t come easily. After sitting through lectures on various topics in the morning and having lab time every afternoon, the students are quizzed on the week’s lessons every Friday.

The students said that while the lectures are interesting, it’s imperative that they pay close attention to the information in order to do well on the quizzes. Some of the most popular lectures topics amongst the students during the program’s early weeks were the dimensional analysis and logic circuits lectures.

One week, the students were out and about around campus surveying the buildings, hoping to get some ideas for their projects.

“The best way to come up with ideas is by looking at structures that already work,” said student Kyle Craver.

(Story continues after the pictures.)

Students work together on project

Students taking measurements

Another week, students built “robots” that moved by following lights from a flashlight.

The program culminates with a team project to build a bridge using nothing but uncooked spaghetti and epoxy.

The challenge brought Pishgahzadeh, Secen, and Lewis together and while their laughter when constructing their bridge might not have suggested hard work, they were definitely in it to win it.

“Our bridge is going to be the best. Of course,” said Secen with a smile.

“One day, we stayed three hours after the program was over just to work on the bridge,” Pishgahzadeh added.

“The hardest part was getting the weight right,” Secen said. “More epoxy meant more weight.”

Student with noodle creationThe teams competed on the program’s final day to see which bridge could hold the most weight. It’s one of the program’s most audible days, as many campus employees join the students and their friends and parents in a buzzing auditorium to watch them compete and cheer for each other.

Unfortunately, the girls didn’t fare as well as they’d hoped.

“When I put the last weight on, the deck wasn't shaking,” Pishgahzadeh said. “I expected to hear a crack in the middle and then for the bridge to collapse. I didn’t hear any crack. I thought I could keep going. Then suddenly the side broke off. I totally didn’t expect it.”

Despite not winning, the strength of the program and the experience for them was obvious after it was all done.

“Awww, we should have made the deck stronger,” said Pishgahzadeh, looking at the remains of their broken bridge. “We really should have focused more on deck. If I ever build a bridge, I’m never going to make that same mistake again.”

“One thing I’ve definitely taken away from this program is how to work in a group,” Lewis said. “It’s so helpful to have two other people who are learning with you. And we’re learning how to work together and how to succeed together. I had worked on group projects before in school, but this program really strengthened my sense of how to work well in a group.”

“I would recommend this program to anyone,” Pishgahzadeh said. “It helps you realize what field of engineering you want to go into, or just what engineering is all about. It’s also so much fun. You make a lot of friends.”


 Several students with noodle creation

Teacher measuring students noodle creation

Students gather around noodle creation

CATEGORY: K-12 Outreach, Featured, In The Community