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Students spend part of summer tackling science and technology at Penn State Harrisburg

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 6/26/19

While some youngsters spend their summer vacation soaking up sunshine at the pool, a group of 32 students, including one from Middletown Area High School, spent the past two weeks immersed in the …

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Students spend part of summer tackling science and technology at Penn State Harrisburg

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While some youngsters spend their summer vacation soaking up sunshine at the pool, a group of 32 students, including one from Middletown Area High School, spent the past two weeks immersed in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

For the past four years, Penn State Harrisburg has held a two-week STEM Summer Enrichment Program. High-schoolers come on the campus to learn from faculty.

“With how big STEM is getting, I think they need more experience with it before they come to college. I think we need to try to get them exposed to it so when they come to college they have a better idea of what they want to do,” said Brittany Anderson, assistant teaching professor of chemistry and co-director of the program.

According to Anderson, the goal of the program is to expose students to the STEM field and give students who are interested in STEM professions a better understanding of options in the field.

The program ran from June 10-21. Students spent their days in eight STEM disciplines — math, mechanical engineering, computer science, civil engineering, physics, biology, electrical engineering and chemistry.

The students learned from Penn State Harrisburg faculty. For example, the electrical engineering workshop was led by Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering Seth Wolpert.

The students could work on four projects, including creating a stereo amplifier that could be plugged into cellphones and a PhotoBot, or a light-loving robot that goes toward light when its sensors detect it.

“I didn’t think I would like that at all, and it turned out to be a lot of fun so far,” said incoming Middletown Area High School senior Hailey Hockenberry.

The electrical engineering day ended up being a favorite.

“It’s just kind of cool to put the stuff together and watch it work because you start out with so many pieces and you put it together and you’ve made something that works and runs,” she said.

While the program is free, student have to apply and be accepted. Students are invited to apply for the program at the start of the new year.

Penn State works to accept a diverse group of students into the program, including students who might not have access to equipment like that at Penn State Harrisburg, Anderson said.

“Diversity in STEM is still a huge problem in terms of ethnic backgrounds, economic backgrounds, gender,” Anderson said.

Students have to be incoming juniors or seniors. Some, such as Hockenberry, were from area high schools such as Lower Dauphin High School, Hershey High School, Harrisburg Academy and Central Dauphin. Some came from Cumberland Valley and Trinity high schools in Cumberland County. Others came from as far away as Owen J. Roberts High School in Pottstown and Collegium Charter School in Exton.

Students also went on field trips to the Penn State Hershey Clinical Simulation Center and to the steel and mining company ArcelorMittal in Steelton.

ArcelorMittal funds the program. When the students visited the plant, they learned about how steel is made and talked with engineers about working in industry vs. academia.

The trip to the clinical simulation center was directed at students interested in medical school. Students learned about CPR and how to insert an IV and tubes to look at the lungs.

On the last day of the camp, the students worked in pairs and give presentations on their favorite workshop or field trip.

This helps the students practice their public speaking skills, Anderson said, and it gives staff feedback on what the students enjoyed during the program.

Hockenberry encouraged other Middletown students to apply.

She wasn’t sure what she wanted to study in college. She was considering studying elementary education, but the program opened her eyes to other career paths, including potentially in the STEM field.

At the end of the day, she said she left the program happy and excited to tell her mom about her day.

“I think this camp was a good experience, and I’m happy I did it,” Hockenberry said.

Any STEM discipline will not be easy, and the program helps give students the confidence that they can succeed, Anderson said.

“I think if we can get to them before they get to college, and that they have an idea of what they want to do, I think it’s going to help them be more successful when they get to college,” she said.