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GBAM GAMES Camp Gets High School Girls Geared Up for Mechanical Engineering

A GBAM GAMES camper uses a drill while working on her team's capstone project for the week: a 3D printer. A GBAM GAMES camper uses a drill while working on her team's capstone project for the week: a 3D printer.

August 9, 2018

“Lots of times, engineering is kind of this abstract sort of thing where someday I guess I'll be an engineer, but I'm not sure what they are, or what they do, or whatever, and I think it might be interesting. It's great to get [students] here and get them doing and seeing what [engineering] really is and how impactful it can really be.” – Joe Muskin, MechSE Educational Coordinator.

That’s exactly what 24 high school girls experienced when they attended the 6th annual GBAM (Girls Building Awesome Machines) GAMES (Girls’ Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science) camp from July 8–17, 2018.

The week-long camp, hosted by the Mechanical Science and Engineering (MechSE) department, was primarily led by six graduate students which, according to Muskin, contributes to the camp's impact, “They’re kind of the role models,” he explains, then jokes, “I’m an old guy. [The students] are not trying to emulate me.”

Sameer Muckatira (upper right) works with GBAM campers during the copper-tape-circuit activity. Sameer Muckatira (upper right) works with GBAM campers during the copper-tape-circuit activity.

What motivated most of the grad students to volunteer to help out with the camp? According to one second year MechSE graduate student, Sameer Muckatira, he thought GBAM GAMES camp was a good opportunity to work with young minds and kids that probably haven’t yet decided what they want to do later on in life.

He stresses the importance of an outreach like GBAM GAMES:

A MechSE student (center) works with GBAM GAMES campers learning CAD (computer-aided design) A MechSE student (center) works with GBAM GAMES campers learning CAD (computer-aided design).

“I think a program like this is going to be really great to show them what engineering can be like. It’s not books and physics and math. It’s more fun; it's building things—it's about problem solving, and we show them how to have fun doing it.”

This camp did just that, by exposing the girls to various aspects of mechanical engineering during daily workshops and hands-on activities addressing subjects like Arduino programming, computer-aided design (CAD), 3D printing, and polymer composites.

In fact, one of the main activities this year revolved around incorporating many components of mechanical engineering into a capstone project. Over the course of five days, the girls designed then built a stereolithographic 3D printer. That’s right, you read that correctly—they built a 3D printer.

MechSE grad student Shayla Bhuiya (left) helps  GBAM GAMES camper Sarah Schoenbaum, a rising junior  from Southern  California, as she makes a copper tape circuit. MechSE grad student Shayla Bhuiya (left) helps GBAM GAMES camper Sarah Schoenbaum, a rising junior from Southern California, as she makes a copper tape circuit.

Sarah Schoenbaum, a rising junior hailing from Southern California, was particularly excited about this activity because, although she has had some experience with 3D printing, she was not expecting to actually make one.

“I was really impressed earlier with the 3D printer, ‘cause I didn't exactly know how we were going to build one,” she admits. “But I thought it was really cool; it was with the resin and how it solidifies for each one.”

In addition to the workshops and hands-on activities, campers went on tours and field trips to different locations, such as mechanical testing laboratories; the cleanroom; as well as Caterpillar and a new start-up company, Psyonic, both at the Research Park. They also had socially engaging activities in the evening, such as participating in a scavenger hunt, navigating escape rooms, and hanging out in the campus recreation room.

“It’s great working with students like this, especially seeing that they can do it, and suddenly engineering becomes a real-life possibility,” says Muskin. “They see that, yes, they can save lives, they can help society, they can do cool things, and they can actually make a difference, and they can do that.”

Aadeel Akhtar, CEO of Psyonic, shows the GBAM  campers one of their high-tech prosthetics. Aadeel Akhtar, CEO of Psyonic, shows the GBAM campers one of their high-tech prosthetics.

One way the girls discovered that they can help society was by making pneumatic prosthetics, which are operated by air or pressurized gas. This activity was related to their field trip to Psyonic, which makes prosthetics that allow people to feel and sense. In fact, this activity encouraged Schoenbaum to consider pursuing mechanical engineering with an emphasis in biomedical engineering.

Below, she shares why she got involved in the GBAM GAMES camp and what she enjoyed most about participating in it.

Sarah Schoenbaum (right) uses a drill press to work on a piece of her team's 3D printer, supervised by MechSE grad student Sameer Muckatira. Sarah Schoenbaum (right) uses a drill press to work on a piece of her team's 3D printer, supervised by MechSE grad student Sameer Muckatira.

Schoenbaum reports that she wanted to come to Illinois to get more hands-on experience, plus see what part of engineering she liked the best. “I came to this camp because I didn't really know what type of engineering that I wanted to do,” she explains. Her first engineering camp, GBAM swayed her to consider pursuing mechanical engineering in the future.

While Schoenbaum was thoroughly impressed with Illinois and all it has to offer, she liked meeting engineers at Caterpillar and Psyonic. “Getting to talk to engineers at a big company and a small company,” she says. “Because I know that I want to go into a career for engineering, but it's good to actually talk to people that have that career and be able to see what they're able to do with their background from college.”

Julia Tung (left) works on her team's 3D printer. Julia Tung (left) works on her team's 3D printer.

Left to right: Julia Tung, a rising senior at Naperville Central; Avnika Surapaneni, a rising sophomore at 
Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn; Madison Olms, a rising junior at Warren Township High School in Gurnee; and Kristin Vose, a rising junior at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, IL. Above left to right: Julia Tung, a rising senior at Naperville Central; Avnika Surapaneni, a rising sophomore at Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn; Madison Olms, a rising junior at Warren Township High School in Gurnee; and Kristin Vose, a rising junior at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, IL.

Below: The four teammates proudly exhibit the 3D printer they designed and built. The four teammates proudly exhibit the 3D printer they designed and built.

Another participant, Julia Tung, a rising senior from Naperville, came to this camp because “[Illinois] is a really good program, and it’s close to home.” She also wanted to see what mechanical engineering was actually like and explore it as a possibility for her future studies.

Despite wanting to get out of the state of Illinois, she enjoyed the camp and made a new friend along the way. Reflecting on her experience, she recalls her favorite activity: “The first day we built this contraption... we put water balloons down a zip line and you had one go through and then stop the other. It was the first activity we did and it made a real true friendship.” (She was referring to the friend next to her, Kristin Vose, a rising junior from Bloomington.) Vose mentions that while she wasn’t sure which engineering discipline she was initially interested in, she had a hunch that it could be mechanical engineering so she wanted to get a feel for what it would be like.

She really enjoyed her GBAM experience because of how hands on the program is and said her favorite activity was programming the Arduino boards. “I wasn't super familiar with coding and it was something I was kind of worried about,” Vose admits. “I found with this that it isn't so bad.”

Madison Olms (center) chats with her teammates about their 3D printer. Madison Olms (center) chats with her teammates about their 3D printer.

Unlike the other participants, who weren’t really sure what mechanical engineering is, Madison Olms, a rising junior from Gurnee, reports coming to GBAM because she has always been interested in mechanical engineering and wanted to get a more hands-on experience to further explore her passions.

Part of why she enjoys mechanical engineering so much is because it’s creative and hands on, but she admits that actually getting to experience teambuilding exercises, along with building different contraptions and machines, will help her decide whether or not she actually wants to pursue mechanical engineering in college.

Olms reflects fondly on her experience at GBAM GAMES camp saying: “I've met a lot of great people, and the activities that we have been doing are just awesome—how hands on it is and how much we get to work together and see our progress as we move on.”


A GBAM camper works on her mousetrap car during the visit to <br />Caterpillar at the Research Park.
A GBAM camper works on her mousetrap car during the visit to
Caterpillar at the Research Park.

Story by Brittany Rhed, I-STEM Undergraduate student worker.
Photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.

More: 8-12 Outreach, GAMES, G-BAM, MechSE, Summer Camp, Women in STEM, 2018

For additional I-STEM articles on G-BAM GAMES camp, please see:

A team of campers present the prosthetic devices they created. A team of campers present the prosthetic devices they created.