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Summer Camps Expose Students to Engineering, College Life at Illinois

Two teammates in the 2016 Explore Mechanical Engineering camp work on the 3D printer they're designing.

May 17, 2017

High school (even middle school) students looking for something fun to do once school is out need look no further than the numerous Engineering camps being offered at Illinois this summer. Most emphasize a specific engineering discipline, such as mechanical or materials engineering, while a few introduce the students to several disciplines. Some are for girls only; others are co-ed. Some are designed with specific age groups in mind, such as students who are close to graduation and grappling with choosing their careers. However, despite their differences, they’re all alike in that they use fun demos, presentations, and hands-on activities to expose participants to engineering, and they give students a taste of what college life at Illinois is like.

Engineering’s Outreach Coordinator, Sahid Rosado, is in charge of fourteen of its summer camps:

  • GAMES: for high school girls
  • WYSE: for high school guys and girls
  • I CAN EXSEL: for Chicago Public School 9th graders
  • GLAM-Mid: for middle school girls

Rosado is preparing for close to 400 kids this summer in the various camps. Although most are full, there are still a few openings left in the GAMES camps for high school girls, which has registered 174 out of a possible 190 campers.

Rosado says her goal in running the camps is to make sure students know what engineering is, and that it’s a viable career option for them. “I think it's very important to have a community, and have your next generation of students really know the opportunities that they can have.”

She clarifies that the goal isn’t that they should all go into engineering, “because that's not the case, but having an informed community that knows that engineering exists even and that's an option that they could pursue if they wanted. I think that's why I do it.”


The eight GAMES (Girl’s Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science) camps for high school girls each emphasize only one engineering discipline. One of the strengths of the camps is that many of the instructors and camp counselors are women, who can serve as role models to these girls. Also, these are week-long residential camps, with participants staying in dorms, which gives them the opportunity to experience campus life. Half of the GAMES camps are scheduled for a week in June; the other half are in July. Holding several camps during the same week helps participants realize that there are other girls out there who are interested in STEM just like them and gives them the opportunity to meet and get to know some of them. Following is the summer 2017 GAMES camp schedule:

A camper works to extract DNA from strawberries during the 2016 Bioengineering camp.
June 18–24
  • Chemical Engineering (9th–12th graders)
  • GLEE (Girls Learn Electrical Engineering) (10th –12th graders)
  • GLAM (Girls Learn About Materials; Materials Engineering; 10th –12th graders)
  • G-BAM (Girls Building Awesome Machines; Mechanical Engineering)
July 9–15
  • Aerospace Engineering (9th–12th graders)
  • Bioengineering (9th–11th graders)
  • Computer Science (9th–12th graders)
  • Environmental Engineering & Sustainability (10th–12th graders)

Since the curricula for several of the camps were revamped last year, most of those will remain the same. However, girls who enroll in the Computer Science GAMES camp this summer are in for a treat. Because CS GAMES alternates between Scratch and Robotics every year, and this summer’s camp is on the theme of robotics, camp directors Alandria Lark and Steve Zewleski have gotten whiz-bang, 3Pi robots (they’re a step up from slower, non-programmable beginner robots)—which the girls will get to keep.

GAMES campers will also be doing some engineering-related activities in the evenings. For instance one of the girls’ favorite activities every year includes a visit to Maker Girl where they will use TinkerCad to design then print 3D objects on 3D printers. According to Rosado, “The girls say at the end of the week that that’s one of their favorite evening sessions.”

Another evening activity “the girls really, really enjoyed” last summer will be repeated again this summer: Bruce Flashbart’s tour of the Engineering Student Projects Lab. “The surveys said that was probably one of their favorite things to do,” Rosado says.

While the students are at camp primarily to do activities about engineering, they won’t constantly have their noses to the grindstone. For example, they’ll be doing some just-for-fun evening activities such as movie night and bowling to get to know some of the other girls better.

WYSE Camps

Providing a chance for the guys to experience engineering too are the week-long, co-ed WYSE (Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering) camps. These either address one individual discipline for the entire week (Bioengineering or Mechanical Engineering), or expose students to a number of different disciplines, usually spending half a day on each. The WYSE Camps (co-ed camps for high schoolers) are all full, with 156 campers.

Like GAMES, WYSE camps are also residential camps for high schoolers. But unlike GAMES, the WYSE camps split the age group into two camps: the Discover camps are for younger students (rising freshmen and sophomores) while the “Exploring” camps are for upperclassmen (juniors and seniors). Also, several camps, rather than concentrating on one discipline, expose campers to numerous engineering fields. Following are the WYSE camps, their dates, and the age groups they cater to.

In 2016 Explore Mechanical Engineering WYSE camp, camper Connor Kirk works on his team's prosthetic device.
June 11–17
  • Exploring Your Options, Session 1 (11th-12th graders)
  • Exploring Mechanical Science and Engineering (11th-12th graders)
June 25–July 1
  • Discover Engineering (9th–10th graders)
July 16–22
  • Discover Bioengineering (9th–10th graders)
  • Exploring Your Options, Session 2 (11th–12th graders)

The Exploring Your Options curriculum has a few new opportunities this year. For instance, based on some observations of last year’s camp, Rosado has implemented a new session dealing with professionalism in engineering. For instance, last summer, faculty were noticing that student behavior was a little bit different, and team dynamics were a bit different than in years past, especially in regards to student attitudes toward working in teams and acting professionally. So Rosado did some asking around and discovered that Ann Whitmere teaches an ethics/team-building course, so she’ll be doing a session on team dynamics and conducting one’s self professionally.

“I think it’s important early on to talk to the students about why this is so important,” says Rosado.

Another new Exploring Your Options session being added is called, “Where the arts meet physics,” which is being taught by Physics Associate Professor Smitha Vishveshwara.

Engineering Outreach Coordinator Sahid Rosado

“The title says it all,” says Rosado. “How physics is present in nature, and how it displays itself in the arts and in nature. I think kids this age, they probably don’t realize how one thing is connected to the other, right? I think kids this age look at engineering as one thing, and then art or social sciences as a whole different thing. So I’m excited about this session because I think it’ll kind of get them thinking differently about, ‘Oh, there is an art aspect to Engineering.’ So hopefully it’ll kind of change their views on what engineering looks like.”


In addition to all of the week-long camps, Engineering is also pioneering a new, free, half-week-long camp for CPS students as part of the I CAN EXSEL (Illinois-ChiS&E Alliance for Nurturing Excellence in STEM Education Leadership) program. From July 24–26th, 20–25 incoming CPS 9th graders will be on campus to be exposed to engineering. Similar to WYSE camps, students will participate in a number of two-hour sessions introducing them to the different engineering disciplines. They’ll also get a taste of what college is like as they stay in dorms and get familiar with the campus via a variety of fun, evening activities.


Engineering will be rolling out another new camp this year, a Materials Engineering camp similar to GLAM GAMES camp for high school girls, but it’s going to be for middle school girls. While GLAM-Mid will not officially be offered as a GAMES camp until next year, Rosado is doing the logistics.

What Rosado finds most rewarding is knowing that she has piqued the interest of some students. “I think about all the students that have no idea about what it is, and then when you see a few, even if it's just a handful of them, that you can really tell when their eyes open really big and they're like, ‘Oh, that sounds really cool!’ That's why I do it, really. For those very brief moments where you can see that you actually sparked an interest in someone. So, I think that's what makes it worth it.” 

Story by Alexandra Anne Peltier, I-STEM undergraduate student. Photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.
More: Faculty Feature, GAMES, GAMES: Summary, Summer Camp, Women in STEM, WYSE, 2017

For additional I-STEM articles on 2016 engineering camps, please see:

In the 2016 GLAM camp, MatSE Ph.D. student (left) holds the tiny figure this team of GLAM campers has just 3D printed.