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Marian University engineering camp aims to grow interest, diversity in field

By Kirsten Adair, IPB News | Published on in Education, Technology
Pattie Mathieu, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Marian University, places weights on students' bridges during the bridge competition. (Kirsten Adair/IPB News)

The E.S. Witchger School of Engineering at Marian University buzzed with the sounds of chatter and a dull ring of metal touching metal on June 14. Engineering staff members loaded a small wooden bridge suspended between two tables with heavy metal weights, trying to find the breaking point.

With a loud snap, the bridge broke into pieces and the weights hit the floor.

The bridge contest was one of the final events at Marian’s Innovation Through Engineering Camp for high school students. The camp’s goal is to increase diversity in engineering and encourage students to learn more about industries with a high demand for engineers.

Marian professors said Indiana needs more engineers. Part of the camp involved touring local businesses like Allison Transmission and Marian Inc., a components manufacturer that builds their own machinery, so the students could learn more about engineering careers around Indianapolis.

“The need is there,” said Pattie Mathieu, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Marian University. “We just need students to fill that need.”

Mark Boykin, a rising junior at Purdue Polytechnic High School at Englewood, said the camp exposed him to different subgroups of engineering.

“I never knew that aerospace was different from mechanical engineering,” he said. “I thought that was the same, but it definitely changes your perspective on mechanical engineering.”

Boykin said his favorite part of camp was programming his team’s robot because he is interested in studying computer engineering.

More than half the students who attended the camp received a need-based scholarship. Mathieu said it is important to expose kids to STEM, especially if they’re from underrepresented communities.

“It’s kind of hard to say, ‘Oh, I could be a scientist. I could be an engineer,’ unless you’ve had those experiences, especially students in underrepresented communities,” she said.

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Mathieu said another important aspect of the camp is exposing students to engineering in ways they might not be able to learn about it in their schools and communities.

She said underrepresented students may not have role models in STEM who look like them. At camp, students become those role models and learn more about their career options.

Annie Kahle will be a junior next year at Pike High School. She attended the camp because she is interested in mechanical engineering.

Kahle worked with a group to design a bridge for the bridge contest on the last day of camp. She said the goal was to build a sturdy model bridge with as few materials as possible.

“We did a lot of research on what was best, what would work, what wouldn’t. And we ended up scrapping one of our ideas when we were halfway through with it because we realized it just wouldn’t work,” she said. “But I think that’s sort of the fun of it.”

Mathieu said she hopes to see some of the campers enroll in Marian University after high school to pursue engineering.

“It’s been such a great week with these campers,” she said. “It is a career choice that has a lot of opportunities for so many people.”

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.