Rosado's Summer 2015 Camps Expose Young People to Engineering...and Illinois

Sahid Rosado, College of Engineering Outreach Coordinator.

July 1, 2015

Sahid Rosado never dreamed when she signed on to teach an Environmental Engineering G.A.M.E.S. camp session a few years ago that she would end up where she is today—the reigning Queen of Illinois’ Engineering camps. As Outreach Coordinator for the College of Engineering, Rosado is ultimately responsible for 356 campers this summer—and she loves it.

From June 7th through August 1st (with a break the week of July 4th), Engineering is holding 13 camps total: 5 WYSE (Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering) and 8 G.A.M.E.S. (Girls’ Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science) camps. And Rosado is responsible for them all, from helping departments create engaging curricula, to making sure campers have beds to sleep in and food to eat, to planning fun/informative events for the evenings.

The crown jewel of the Illinois camp circuit is the G.A.M.E.S. camps, which year after year have been successfully piquing girls’ interest in engineering across a broad range of disciplines. The number of girls who attend keeps increasing every year; up 10 from last year (Aerospace increased their capacity from 30 to 40), 199 campers will participate this year.

WYSE campers get a tour of one of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering's labs.

What’s new this year in G.A.M.E.S.? For one, unlike in previous years, the camps are not held on the same week, but are spread out throughout the summer. Ambivalent about the change, Rosado admits: “Splitting them up—I was a little hesitant to do so, because I feel that…seeing 200 girls in the same camp with you, it’s so empowering. I feel like it created this sense of community. But at the same time, when we did evening activities, trying to fit all 200 girls into one space…”

Also, Computer Science will now rotate between robotics (this year) and app development (last year and again next year).

Tasked with designing a mechanism that helps safely channel a manufacturer's jars of watermelon jam, Exploring Mechanical Engineering campers work with plastic that may be molded to a specific shape after being immersed in boiling water.

So with G.A.M.E.S. being exclusively for girls, what about the guys?? Rosado mentions being approached with this exact question during G.A.M.E.S. last year: “I remember a little kid coming up to me, and he was like, ‘Is there something for boys?’”

There is: Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering (WYSE) camps. With G.A.M.E.S. camps’ girls-only emphasis, WYSE camps (for both guys and girls) give the guys a chance to be exposed to engineering too. Those camps have also experienced some changes this year.

For example, Discover Engineering, previously only for sophomores, now includes rising freshmen. Two Exploring Your Options camps expose rising juniors and seniors to a smorgasbord of engineering: Aerospace; Bioengineering; Chemical; Civil; Electrical; Industrial/Enterprise Systems; Materials; Mechanical; Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological; and Physics. As one 2015 WYSE camper put it: “It’s definitely helped me to see what each different field is like.” An even bigger change this year is the two additional WYSE camps specializing in one discipline only: Exploring Mechanical Engineering (for rising juniors and seniors) and Discover Bioengineering (for rising freshmen and sophomores).

An Exploring Mechanical Engineering camper works on a hands-on activity designing a prosthetic device.

Much of the WYSE curriculum is also new this year. Rosado was able to sit down with each department coordinator to discuss ideas and revamp curricula. Many switched activities, which they had been doing over and over for the last 10 years.

According to Rosado, also new this year was Engineering Night, to give Exploring Your Options camps' rising juniors and seniors information about how to apply to Illinois and what being a student here is like. For example, Andrea Wynn, Recruitment and Retention Coordinator of the Morrill Engineering Program, gave a short presentation about resources the College offers engineering students. Then, a panel of nine current students talked about the College’s different resources: Women in Engineering, Study-Abroad Office, IEFX for Summer Scholars, etc.

How’d it go? “Kids were non-stop asking questions,” Rosado reports. “It was great. We’re all like, ‘U of I is great!’ So that’s really our target, because they’re all going to be in college soon, so why not U of I?”

In addition to recruiting students to Illinois, Rosado also shares another goal near and dear to her heart: to see more minority students at Illinois. “It’s something I identify with myself because I am also a minority student. So, I think that’s my goal right now, getting more underrepresented students and getting them interested, not only in engineering, but just opening their eyes to this whole field they’ve never been exposed to before. So if they don’t end up choosing engineering, that’s ok. But as long as they’re exposed to it, and they get to see that, ‘Oh, I can do this too!’”

A team of campers in the new Exploring Mechanical Engineering WYSE camp design a prosthetic hand.

According to Rosado, they worked hard this year trying to get the numbers of underserved students up, recruiting students such as women, minorities, and first-generation college students.

Also rewarding to Rosado is the number of donations they received this year earmarked for scholarships: $25,000 for G.A.M.E.S. and $6,000 for WYSE scholarships.

When planning for this year's camps, Rosado admits that she paid attention to camper feedback from last year. For example they nixed the Lego Competition because, “When I was looking at camper surveys from last year, some of the students weren’t feeling that activity," Rosado admits. "So I said, ‘Ok, let’s change it.’” According to Rosado, there’s a different schedule of evening activities each week, based on that week’s age group; some activities include: ice skating, Ultimate Frisbee, a scavenger hunt, movies, games, or soccer.

New evening activities for G.A.M.E.S. campers include meeting Maker Girl (business major Caitlyn Deegan, who started the organization) at the Maker Lab, plus a presentation by Bruce Flachsbart, Director of the Engineering Student Project Lab.

Environmental Engineering G.A.M.E.S. campers
Two Environmental Engineering G.A.M.E.S. campers test the water in Boneyard Creek.

New for all the camps this year is a campus tour for students and their parents when they check in on Sunday. This allows parents to see the campus as well, because Rosado knows that when a high schooler is considering college, it never hurts to have the parents in Illinois’ corner. Parents she asked about the tour replied, “‘Oh, my God, yes. It was so great!’ So it’s also another opportunity for them to see what we have here,” she explains.

So how did a former engineering student with a Bachelor’s in Civil Engineering, a Master’s, and working on a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering end up as the Outreach Coordinator for the College?

She admits to having always been drawn to outreach. “When I was a grad student here in Environmental Engineering, I really always wanted to become involved in outreach, and I was always involved in student panels for incoming students, and I really enjoyed talking with students who were thinking about engineering; that was something I always liked to do.”

Then, she took an outreach class taught by Joe Muskin and Sharlene Denos, where students created lessons related to their research, bringing it down to the level middle school students could understand. At some point during the course, she had a career-changing epiphany: “I was like, ‘This is awesome! This is what I want to do!’”

Angie Wolters
Angie Wolters (left) and Sahid Rosado during G.A.M.E.S. camp last year.

And now she is. She dropped out of her Ph.D. program and is currently doing a second Masters in the College of Education and getting her teaching certificate for secondary math. And after assisting Associate Director of Women in Engineering Angie Wolters with G.A.M.E.S. last year, this year she agreed to take on not only G.A.M.E.S. camps, but WYSE as well as become the College's new Outreach Coordinator.

And despite all the changes she's made for this year, she's only just begun. For instance one of her goals is to broaden the range of ages Illinois' camps serve. She intends to, of course, keep the emphasis on high school students as a recruiting tool: “High school is a great target group…because that’s when you’re opening their eyes to our College and our campus.” But she also wants to involve younger students.

What’s Rosado’s take on the optimal age to begin outreach? How young can you start? “You can start as early as you want, in my opinion,” she replies. So she intends to do just, starting with focusing on middle school students.

She reports having read articles about how important the middle school age is. “Kids are really interested in elementary, because they’re discovering, and they love it, but then when they get to high school, they don’t feel the same way anymore…something happens during middle school where their spark goes out, and they’re no longer interested. I don’t know if it’s something about, ‘Science is not cool,’ or what it is.”

A WYSE camper in the new Exploring Mechanical Engineering camp does a hands-on activity making a wind turbine.

Rosado’s vision for Engineering Outreach is to pique youngsters’ interest in engineering when they’re in middle school and get them firmly entrenched into the STEM pipeline…before they lose interest. So she’s begun conversation about starting camps for younger students. For example, the GLAM camp directors hope to start a separate camp for middle school girls.

“That’s the direction I really want to go in,” she admits. Rosado recognizes that running a camp for 7th and 8th graders could pose a challenge, but says “I think that we should start doing things in that age group. So, slowly but surely…”

And this year's camp season isn't even half over yet, and she's got another new camp in the works: another specialty WYSE camp: Exploring NPRE, possibly next year.

While Rosado misses being in the trenches a bit, her ultimate goal in outreach is to get young people excited about STEM, and as long as that's happening and she's playing a part, she's ok with that: “I love inspiring kids, and things like these camps really give us a great opportunity to do that,” says Rosado. “I love seeing kids, and seeing that little, ‘Oh, My God!’ I love doing that. And sometimes being here, I don’t get to directly do that, because I’m not in class with them, but knowing that you’ve contributed a little to making all this happen, I really would love to continue doing that.”

Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.
More: Faculty Feature, GAMES, GAMES: Summary, Summer Camp, Women in STEM, WYSE, 2015

For additional istem articles on G.A.M.E.S. camp, please see:

Environmental Engineering G.A.M.E.S. camp director Sotiria Koloutsou-Vakakis (left) and G.A.M.E.S. counselor Elizabeth Sanders (center) encourage two campers during a hands-on activity about ammonia.