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DesignCamp Welcomes Hundreds of Middle-Schoolers

Past Campers More Likely to Chose Engineering Majors

Hundreds of middle-school children take part in UMass Lowell’s DesignCamp each year.

By Karen Angelo

Liquid-propelled rockets, arcade games, smart robots and remote-controlled submarines - these are just a few of the projects that students in UMass Lowell’s DesignCamp will build in the coming weeks.

Now in its 11th year, the summer camp annually attracts more than 350 students from 100 cities and towns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The camp consists of four week-long sessions in July.

Eleven workshops include interactive design-and-build projects such as “Electric Jungle,” “Carnival Contraptions,” “Inventions and Gizmos,” “Crime Science,” “Architect’s Studio” and “Flight School.”

DesignCamp was created to engage young people in fun design projects to encourage them to study engineering and other sciences. And data show that DesignCamp works. Of students who attend camp for more than one year, 24 percent choose to study engineering and 16 percent choose science-, technology-, engineering- and mathematics-related fields. According to 2006 SAT data, students who participated in DesignCamp choose engineering at a rate five times higher than other Massachusetts college-bound students.

“I think that the program has been successful because we engage kids in hands-on projects that are relevant to their lives,” said Michael Penta, associate director and program developer for the Future Engineers Center and DesignCamp. “We ask campers to solve problems on their own that many may not have much of an opportunity to do in normal life. A working solution generates a great deal of pride, confidence and motivation.”

Thanks to the financial support of companies such as Raytheon, Goodrich, Tyco Electronics, 3M, Millipore and the Cabot Corp., more than 35 percent of the students will receive financial assistance and 25 percent will receive full scholarships to attend the camp.

The middle-school children don’t realize they are learning because they are having so much fun, according to Penta, who is teaching “Techcreation Food and Games” and “Game Makers.”

“DesignCamp is the only place I have taught where kids ask ‘Can we skip recess? I want to go work!’” he says.