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BYU engineering camp motivates students into STEM-related fields

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If it can give them a glimpse of one little thing that grabs them and makes them more interested in math and science, it gives them a better chance of going into a STEM career. – Janine Rush-Byers

PROVO — The future for young math and science enthusiasts is bright because of a new program that highlights the limitless opportunities for engineers.

Chip Camp was held at BYU on Tuesday and Wednesday to encourage about 50 seventh- and eighth-grade students to pursue degrees in engineering.

Under the guidance of engineering undergraduates at BYU, the kids shuffled through 10 science, technology, engineering and math activities over the course of two days.

Thanks to a longtime partnership with the Micron Foundation, a company devoted to furthering kids' interest in STEM, the $8,000 price tag for the event was covered. Janine Rush-Byers, Micron's university relations manager, said it's a small investment when considering the possible effect the camp could have on young students.

"If it can give them a glimpse of one little thing that grabs them and makes them more interested in math and science, it gives them a better chance of going into a STEM career," Rush-Byers said.

For 13-year-old Brigham Boyack, the camp opened his eyes to the variety of job opportunities in engineering.

"I didn’t know there was as many options as there actually are," he said.

Brigham said the material was easy to understand because the college students knew it well and could teach the middle schoolers in a way that was fun.

"We are shooting catapults right now," he said, smiling. "And that's fun."

Trevor Decker, a student co-director of Chip Camp and junior at BYU, said it was nice to see kids understand how concepts in the classroom can be applied in the real world.

"No matter what you're interested in, there is an engineering field for you," Decker said. "I like to help kids get excited and understand that these concepts are not just a cool thing your science teacher explains."

Only 1 in 3 students who applied for the camp were accepted, a feat Jessica Hornback, 13, said made her feel accomplished. With a pencil behind her ear, Jessica said the camp made her consider other fields within engineering.

"I was kind of thinking more of mechanical, so being able to learn more about computers and chemicals makes me want to go more into that kind of area," she said.

Girls comprised 40 percent of the group, and Jessica encouraged other young women to not be afraid to tackle a field she said has a history of being dominated by men.

"I think girls should try and go into engineering and change the look of all boys going into engineering," she said. "Because girls … have the ability to easily do this."

The BYU student counselors have worked all summer on research projects in preparation for Chip Camp, said electrical and computer engineering professor Aaron Hawkins.

By the end of camp, the students were able to take home $50 worth of gadgets such as a microcontroller board and programmable LED frisbees.

Hawkins said the environment the camp creates will hopefully sway kids to seriously consider engineering for their future.

"It gives them something to shoot for, someone to look up to, and makes it more concrete in their head. Eventually we would like to see them come to BYU and get into engineering," he said.

With a successful first year under their belts, Hawkins and his students hope to have more kids at next year's camp.

"This is the first time we’ve ever done it, so we are not sure what will happen in the future," Hawkins said, "but we are committed to do it next year.

"We are always told that we aren’t producing enough engineering degrees in the United States, so we want to motivate that as much as possible," he said.

Email: mcollette@deseretnews.com, Twitter: MirandaCollette