“Science You Can See” Summer Camp for Precollege Students
Thirty middle and high-school students from Baltimore city and county attended the Morgan State University (MSU) Science You Can See (SYCS) summer camp, led by Professor Yacob Astatke and the Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications ERC (LESA) – a National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The community-supported camp exposed young students of under-represented minorities to lighting-enabled systems and other STEM-related topics.
Assessment data showed that SYCS increased knowledge and interest in lighting-enabled systems topics among the students while providing a better understanding of the role engineers play in improving our world. Students were given age-appropriate lessons in topics such as optics, communications, resistors, capacitors, soldering, circuits, and sustainability. They conducted hands-on engineering experiments and designed prototypes. The program also fostered critical skill sets such as confidence, cooperative teamwork, collaboration, oral and written presentation, research documentation, learning-by-teaching, and leadership skills.
The SYCS program was originally scheduled for only one week with funding by the ERC; however, response to the initial announcement was so positive that the program was increased to four weeks. The local community supported this program expansion with additional small grants from the the Maryland Space Grant Consortium (MDSGC) and from ISTEMS, a small, local, minority-owned business.
The program successfully engaged learners at several different stages of the academic pipeline. Undergraduate and graduate student mentors gained invaluable experience through designing the SYCS activities and leading the groups. The program staff included three graduate students, five undergraduate students, and one electrical and computer engineering (ECE) technical support person. Undergraduate students who served as mentors were also participants in the Undergraduate Research Program in Smart Lighting and Visible Light Communications under the guidance of Dr. Astatke and a graduate student.
Each morning session covered lighting-enabled systems topics, while afternoons aligned with topics of interest to the new funding sources. Students attended for free and could sign up for more than one session. The camp enrolled 15-17 students per week with total enrollment of 30 by the end of the summer.