STEM camp brings students to Marietta

Photo by Michael Kelly Students in the BB2C STEM camp look at diagrams during a session Tuesday morning devoted to designing and building a robotic arm, using equipment and resources at the Epicenter on Lancaster Street.

When nearly 30 of Appalachian Ohio applicants were not able to attend a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) camp sponsored by the federal government in Oak Ridge, Tenn., the governor’s office in Ohio took note and began hunting for opportunities to serve those students.

That hunt came to fruition this week with a state-sponsored week-long STEM camp in Marietta, organized by Building Bridges to Careers and attended by 21 students in counties from all over southeastern Ohio.

On Tuesday morning, the students sat at computers in the Epicenter conference room on Lancaster Street while watching Elijah Ditchendorf, a BB2C staff member who also is a fourth-year engineering student at the University of Cincinnati, describe the programming and structure of a robotic arm they were to design and build during the five-day session.

“It’s programmed to move objects,” said staff member Kristi Leonard, a middle school math teacher from Frontier Local Schools, and gestured to plastic chips and small cubes on a table meant to be moved to specific locations by the robot. The arm, mounted on a small base housing a servo-motor, will be made of parts designed by the students, manufactured on the Epicenter’s 3-D printer, and controlled by programming they write.

On Tuesday afternoon, the students toured the Mondo Polymer Technology plant in Reno, and in the evening they were scheduled to go kayaking on Veto Lake with the Marietta Adventure Company.

“It’s competitive, but they’ll have to be able to cooperate to do it,” Leonard said.

In addition to learning STEM applications and resources, the students are being put in situations where they have to implement leadership and collaboration, she said.

John Carey, the director for the Governor’s Office of Appalachia, was in Marietta Tuesday as the students toured the Mondo facility.

“We’re proud of Building Bridges to Careers, that’s a model we’re trying to replicate in other parts of the state,’ he said. “When the Oak Ridge camp could take only a few of the 37 students who applied, we saw that many of those applications had merit and we didn’t want them to be discouraged. We have to support them and recognize their work. The idea is to give them an opportunity to experience something they would otherwise have.”

Tasha Werry, executive director of BB2C, said her agency organized the project and hopes to do it again next year.

“It was a rare opportunity, the governor’s office actually approached us with the idea, he had the students and the funding, he just needed somebody to organize it,” she said. “I think it will probably continue into future years.”

Megan Durham came to the camp from Vinton County, where she’ll be going into eighth grade in August.

“My science teacher picked students from his class,” she said. “I’ve done STEM camp before, and I love science, hope to become a scientist.”

The experience has been eye-opening for her.

“We’re messing with robots, the only ones I’ve done before are Lego. The software is really cool, it’s teaching me a lot. The robots at the Mondo plant were astonishing, the intricacy of how they moved. I’m looking forward to the robot competition at the end of the week.”

Chris Engler is going into his junior year of high school at Canfield, and got a slot in the camp after being unable to attend the Oak Ridge camp.

“We’ve done things I haven’t done before. There are people here with a background who know things I don’t, but I’ve found I’m also able to help them,” he said.

The camp concludes on Friday.

BB2C Summer STEM camp

• Twenty-one students from Appalachian Ohio counties are in Marietta for a week.

• Accommodation at Marietta College dorms give them a taste of the college experience.

• Several sessions involving the creation of a robotic arm that can be programmed to pick up and move objects.

• Tour of Mondo Polymer Technologies plant in Reno.

• Competitive and cooperative kayaking on Veto Lake.

Source: Building Bridges to Careers.