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NMSU camps introduce students to science careers

Summer camps held by a New Mexico State University math and science outreach program gave area students the opportunity to learn the basics of robotics and engineering.

Area students work together to build a robot during one of the summer camps held by the Southern New Mexico Science, Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy, a New Mexico State University outreach program. (Submitted photo)

A partnership between the College of Education and the College of Engineering, the Southern New Mexico Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy held eight camps over the course of the summer for students interested in robotics and engineering. About 120 students participated in the camps held in the Aerospace Education Lab, located in the College of Engineering.

The week-long robotics camps were held for fifth-graders, sixth through eighth-graders and high school students, with each age group using a different Lego robotics kit. Participants worked in teams to build and program their own robots to look for lunar ice, which is part of NASA curriculum.

"I like robotics and am really interested in building robots," said Anthem Furth, an eighth-grader at Zia Middle School. "I'm thinking about a career in civil or mechanical engineering, and I thought this camp would be useful and fun."

The students started by role playing as robots to learn how to make and give commands and then transferred this knowledge to the actual robots. The robots had to be programmed to navigate lunar landscapes and other mazes. Along the way, participants also learned about technical writing, communication and teamwork.

The skill sets learned from the camps can be applied to fields other than aerospace, including car manufacturing and medicine. Recently, a robot was even used as part of the project to plug the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Robots are used as an extension of what humans want to do but can't because of harsh conditions," said Laura Tomlinson, SNM SEMAA assistant project director.

Engineering camps also were held, introducing students to the different disciplines within the field, such as mechanical, chemical, industrial, electrical and civil engineering. Guest speakers spoke to participants about engineering and its career possibilities. They also spoke to students about why they went into the field.

The students worked on introductory projects throughout the week in each area of engineering. They made earthquake towers, solar cars and submarines, penny batteries and root beer floats and ice cream. They also worked on bridge design.

"We tried incorporating technology as much as possible. The kids were very open to trying new ideas and experimenting," Tomlinson said.

For more information about the summer camps and SNM SEMAA, contact Tomlinson at 575-646-2991.

Broadcast Advisory: Watch this video on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRdQrxPLCm4. Video and sound bites for broadcast are available under the title SEMAA camps 2010 at the following ftp site: ftp://aggievision:goaggies@aggievision.nmsu.edu. Use the following information if you are using a download client: Host: aggievision.nmsu.edu Username: aggievision Password: goaggies. To download these files you must have Quicktime Pro software. For questions on problems with downloading, contact Minerva Baumann at 575-646-7566.