Summer STEM course encourages science, experimentation in Springfield

A summer engineering program has provided Clark County students with experiences ranging from a bomb squad demonstration to a spaghetti bridge building competition.

Bomb squads from the Dayton Police Department and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base demonstrated Tuesday practical applications of the knowledge 11 high school students witnessed during the four-week Johns Hopkins University Innovation Program.

“This is definitely interesting to them,” said Kanesha Hall, STEM programming manager. “Since the Engineering Innovation course includes abstract examples of robotics, the instructors decided a concrete example of robotics would aid the students’ learning.”

The Dayton bomb squad discussed Tuesday the use of electrical and robotic engineering in law enforcement while the Wright-Patt crews focused on a military perspective.

The program concludes Friday with a spaghetti bridge building competition held at the Clark State Performing Arts Center. This will be the second year the competition has taken place.

The program is meant to encourage students to pursue STEM-related fields — science, technology, engineering and math. Students learn how to apply their knowledge of calculus, testing and civil and chemical engineering and can earn college credit for a freshman engineering course through Johns Hopkins University.

They also had the opportunity to visit Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and tour the engineering classrooms and equipment.

Throughout the Innovation Program, students work in small teams to build a bridge that is free-standing, weighs a maximum of 250 grams and is no more than 25 centimeters high. The structures must support the weight of a loading platform. Participants can use epoxy glue and different widths of dry spaghetti noodles to construct their bridges.

The engineering program is modeled after a college-level curriculum from Johns Hopkins University.

“If you ask the students how the course is, they will tell you it’s not easy,” Hall said.

Any student who attends the program would benefit from it, Hall said, and it allows students to also obtain letters of recommendation to make resumes and applications more impressive.

The program is held at more than 12 sites across the U.S. including Maryland; California; Washington, D.C.; Pennsylvania and Washington. Clark County students will compete against students’ bridges nationally.

The final bridge competition in Springfield is free and open to the public.

“We’re encouraging people to come to bridge event — especially parents,” Hall said.

Graduates from the program last year will return to speak at the event and give students entering college or high school advice. Three students have already graduated from the program and entered STEM fields.

Horton H. Hobbs IV, the vice president of economic development at the Chamber of Greater Springfield, went to Johns Hopkins with some students enrolled in the Innovation Program this year.

“These are the kinds of programs that will change the trajectory of our community,” Hobbs said.

Staff Writer Cameron Hunter contributed to this report.