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NMSU camps help broaden educational horizons

Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, and many will say a doctor, or a scientist, or an astronaut. New Mexico State University is helping children achieve dreams such as these through numerous camps throughout the summer.

A student puts together a rocket during the NASA SEMAA Rocket Camp, one of many SEMAA camps held at New Mexico State University this summer. (NMSU photo by Margaret Kovar)

Students from the southern part of the state participated in NASA Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy camps in June and July. Several robotics camps were held for students starting in the fifth grade, all the way up to high school seniors.

"I've been to the SEMAA engineering camp and had a great experience, so I wanted to come and learn about robots. Learning about and designing my robot was my favorite part of the camp," said Josiah Jaquess, a home-schooled ninth grader.

Fifth-grade students participated in a WeDo Robotics workshop. WeDo is an entry-level robotics program that uses cross-curriculum to teach language, literacy, teamwork and design. Throughout the week, they learned the basics of robotics while building a LEGO zoo. Participants built their robots, then used a drop-and-drop type of software to control them.

Those in the sixth through eighth grades took part in the NXT Robotics camp. With the NXT Robotics software, students can build robots and use software to plan, test and modify
sequences of instructions from a variety of real life robotic behaviors. They designed and built robots mimicking animals and insects, along the way learning how unique animal traits influence robot designs for human use. They also gathered and analyzed data from touch and ultrasonic sensors using data logging functionalities, such as graph view.

The VEX Robotics workshop was an advanced camp for students who had two or more years experience working with the NXT robotics systems. Students programmed their robots to navigate through various challenges and play fast-paced games.

"I've been fascinated by robots and how they work for a long time. I really liked learning how to program them," said Jared Shortal, a student in 10th grade at Mayfield High School.

Girls Learning Exciting Engineering, or G.L.E.E., was for students grades six through 10. Students explored civil, mechanical, electrical, industrial and chemical engineering through hands-on activities such as alternative energy-powered cars, thermoplastic polymer boats and LED hula hoops.

The rocket camps, for sixth through eighth graders, focused on rockets and the physics of rocket flight. Students built a variety of rockets and participated in daily launches. The Friday of the camp, families were able to participate in a launch.

High school students also received the opportunity to learn how to scuba dive during the Scuba Space Camp two-day underwater astronaut training. Campers experienced the way real astronauts train for their missions by assembling a model International Space Station underwater.

A Discover Engineering camp was held for sixth through eighth grade students in the Gadsden Independent School District. Participants learned about mechanical, electrical, civil, industrial and chemical engineering through hands-on activities. Some of the activities included mouse trap-powered vehicles, thermoplastic polymer boats and electric fireflies.

Merita Wilson brought students from Hatch Public Schools, where she is a teacher, to several of the SEMAA camps.

"In my community, most of the kids attending the SEMAA camps have parents who are migrant workers. They work out in the field all day, so the kids have pretty much nothing to do," she said. "Camps like these give kids a break from the mundane and allow them to see what else there is in the world."

NMSU SEMAA students received another learning opportunity when they were chosen for a filmed question and answer session with the astronauts of the final space shuttle mission, STS-135. The video of the session can be seen at http://education.nmsu.edu/news-current/spacetalk.html.