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Public Affairs : Summer STEM Workshop

Cadets, faculty mentor students during summer STEM workshop 

Story and photo by Kathy Eastwood
Staff Writer
 
WEST POINT, N.Y. (June 11, 2014) — The Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education and the Office of Admissions hosted a STEM workshop for middle school students June 2-5.

Nearly 100 students nationwide were invited to attend, having demonstrated superior academic performance at their schools to include grade point average, class standing and a strong interest in attending college.

U.S. Military Academy faculty and cadets volunteered their time to present the workshop and provide real-world application of math and science.

“I’ve done this before and it is great to see kids interested in STEM,” Class of 2016 Cadet Marco Zamora, a mechanical engineering major, said. “It’s not like when I was a child; I didn’t want anything to do with math. When I came to West Point, I did well in math and stuck with it. Then I took physics and realized it was math and really got into it.”

Students were assigned to squads of 12 guided by a cadet team leader and platoon leader.

“This is a great time and I am huge on this stuff; that’s what got me to help,” Class of 2017 Cadet Thomas Matty said.

Matty had never attended a STEM workshop before, only high school science fairs.

“My dad taught here at West Point and he was a big advocate of this stuff,” Matty said. “Math and science are important.”

Students received hands-on instruction in different areas of chemistry, such as using fruits and vegetables to create a working battery, mechanical engineering where students learned the basic physics of flight, using math to build robotic systems and program software to program a robot. In bridge design, students used software to build a bridge that could withstand weight while considering the design costs.  
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Middle school students from around the country participated in the four-day STEM workshop June 2-5 at West Point. The program included applications of physics, bridge design, robotics and flight.

Connor Brookbank, a student from Spring Pond, Indiana, found building a bridge to be frustrating.

“This is a rough course,” Brookbank said.

Brookbank finally got the bridge to work, but there was a small problem.

“It’s way over budget,” Brookbank said.

Another bridging project was led by retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Ressler, former head of the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering. He presented students with the problem of getting the squad across a river using two 8-foot planks to spread across the river, which was 9-feet wide.

“Two squads compete to design, build and test a bridge,” Ressler said. “They must use the materials at hand and get every member of their squad across. It is a significant engineering principle and they learn this by experience. One third to one half of the kids compete at some point in bridge design.”

The squads had five minutes to complete that task, which they did—by trial and error.

The academy hosts several STEM workshops throughout the year, most recently a girls-only, one-day STEM workshop. USMA also sponsors the popular Bridge Design Contest where students compete for scholarships.