Teens Discover Engineering at UCF

Teens Discover Engineering at UCF

Camp Connect participants visit the Structures Lab as part of their introduction to civil engineering. Photo by Kimberly J. Lewis.

Adrian McKay traveled from Maine to learn about engineering and computer science at UCF.

The African-American teen was among 100 academically promising 8th, 9th and 10th graders attending Camp Connect July 16-20, a summer day camp hosted by the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Geared towards females and children from underrepresented communities, the camp was CECS’s first major initiative to increase the diversity of its students.

Each day of camp showcased a different CECS discipline, including computer science, civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and industrial engineering. CECS faculty and graduate students introduced campers to their fields with hands on-activities, lab tours and more.

On the first day, McKay, who is interested in science, said he wasn’t sure whether he wants to pursue engineering. “This camp will give me a lot of different ideas and expand my viewpoint.”

Maria Torres brought her ninth-grade son Francisco. Originally from Cuba, she has great hopes for her son. “I’m so excited about this camp, knowing that I’ve been able to help Francisco with what he wants to do. It’s all about taking advantage of every opportunity that is given to us.”

Charles Reilly, CECS associate dean for Academic Affairs, kicked-off camp with a rousing introduction, emphasizing how engineers and computer scientists make a difference in people’s lives.

“You can’t do anything today without being impacted by what engineers do,” Reilly said. “You will have the opportunity to change the world. You will have the opportunity to work on things that we haven’t thought of yet. You’ll help people, you’ll have fun doing it, and you might be rewarded well financially for doing it. Now doesn’t that sound good?”

That message rang true for Gabrielle McKay, Adrian McKay’s cousin. The 10th grader already knows she wants to pursue engineering. “Engineers are innovators. It doesn’t matter what they do, they always end up helping people,” she said.

And the fact she is an African-American female – typically underrepresented in engineering classrooms and workplaces – does not daunt her. In fact, she embraces that challenge. “That just gives me a better way to prove myself,” she said.

Donning brightly colored t-shirts, campers participated in a variety of activities, including writing computer programs, building robots, and much more. They also worked on group projects, gave presentations and received awards.

By the week’s end, Adrian McKay said he was more convinced that he’d like to pursue engineering. “I liked civil engineering a lot because I could help others,” he said.

Gabrielle McKay liked industrial engineering because “it’s more people-oriented.”

Francisco Torres said he liked mechanical engineering the best. “I liked all the machines, and that they could do so many things all at the same time. That was pretty cool.”

And Michael Ellison, a ninth-grader who wants to attend UCF someday, said he really enjoyed computer science. “I enjoyed the hands-on activities. Computer science was a lot of fun.”

Fidelia Nnadi, a civil engineering associate professor and director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said Camp Connect can be a life-changing experience for underrepresented children.

“When they come to the UCF campus, and specifically to our college, they start to envision themselves in this environment,” Nnadi said. “That experience sparks a belief that they can be here just like anyone else.”

The campers’ academic progress will be tracked over the next several years to help CECS understand how to best create pipeline for underrepresented students in the college.