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Cotton candy, unmanned aerial vehicles and field trips: That's only part of engineering camp

By JANE STOYLE WELCH and CORY NEALON

Published August 7, 2014

“This camp shows students that engineering is, in fact, very connected to bettering human lives, protecting the environment and creating more sustainable industries.”
Liesl Folks, dean
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Found at baseball games, the amusement park and other summer destinations, cotton candy seldom appears in the classroom.

It did, however, on Monday as National Grid and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) welcomed roughly 60 local high school students to the North Campus for their annual engineering camp.

Using a machine she built for less than $40, camp director Leana DeSouza spun together the confection in Agrusa Auditorium in Davis Hall as students, their parents, and UB faculty and staff watched.

The demonstration’s purpose? Beyond serving up a sweet snack, the machine demonstrates the principles of centrifugal force in a fun and engaging way that students can easily understand.

That, in a nutshell, is the purpose of the four-day National Grid/UB Engineering Leadership Camp: to stimulate student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and to encourage students’ curiosity in the world around them.

“This camp is part of National Grid’s Engineering our Future initiative, through which we’ve made a $3 million investment to launch programs and support corporate partnerships that focus on getting students excited about STEM fields,” said Dennis Elsenbeck, National Grid regional director.            

The camp, which concludes today Thursday, included field trips to National Grid’s operations center and the Museum of disABILITY History in Eggertsville. It also included a trip led by UB’s Office of Sustainability to Love Canal, RiverBend and other regional destinations with environmental significance.

“This camp shows students that engineering is, in fact, very connected to bettering human lives, protecting the environment and creating more sustainable industries,” said SEAS Dean Liesl Folks.

Speaking to the students on Monday, Folks said engineers must be creative and that “we will put tools in your hands so you can build things this week.”

DeSouza, a senior studying mechanical and aerospace engineering, said she didn’t have access to camps, mentors or tutors while growing up. “I hope to use my engineering knowledge to encourage others to pursue STEM careers by showing them that science is fun and attainable, despite one’s social, ethnic or economic position,” she said.

National Grid representative Kenneth Kujawa also addressed the students. He explained how the company delivers gas and electricity to more than 3 million customers, and that it employs hundreds of engineers in Western New York to design and maintain the pipeline network needed to deliver its services.

He also said new engineers are needed to replace those who retire from National Grid; this motivates the company to sponsor programs, such as the camp, that encourage students to pursue engineering careers.

The main engineering project the students tackled was building small, unmanned, aerial vehicles, the kind that can be used to deliver medicine and goods to people who are unable to leave their homes.

Led by Brian K. Smith, founder and CEO of EduSerc, a Maryland-based nonprofit, the project gave the students an opportunity to engineer a solution to a worldwide humanitarian problem.