SCC holds STEM summer camp

Article by: Jenny Arnold | Herald Journal

It was hard for Ben Cagle to tear himself away from programming a robot to eat lunch Wednesday. 

Cagle, a ninth-grader at Greer High School, is one of 15 students who attended Spartanburg Community College's first Ultimate Technology Summer Camp, stressing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills. The camp was made possible by a $15,000 grant from Duke Energy and co-sponsored by Clemson University Center for Workforce Development.

Students learned about engineering, manufacturing and computer technology with hands-on activities. They made plastic shapes such as crosses and hearts using 3-D modeling software and printers, participated in cyber-challenge competitions and on Wednesday, they programmed a small, wheeled robot called “Boe-bot” to follow simple commands such as turning and flashing its lights.

Ben was so engrossed in making his Boe-bot do what he wanted it to that instructors had to gently force him to take a lunch break.

“It's a lot of code and it's really confusing,” said Ben, staring intently at a computer screen as he attempted to program the bot's two red lights to alternate flashing on and off. “It's fun once you get good at it. I didn't know how to do this when I got up this morning.”

Ben was assisted by Joe Santaniello, program director of engineering technology at the college.

“These are standard programming commands they can use in other applications,” Santaniello said, adding that the camp will give the participants a small taste of engineering and robotics.

Students went from the computer lab where they programmed their bots to a room across the hall, where flat cardboard boxes were set up to create an obstacle course to test the programming. Some students measured distances around or to obstacles. Others rushed back and forth between the rooms, making small adjustments by computer to the programs, before coming back to the obstacle course to test the bots again.

“After the first part, it was perfect,” said Georgia Price, a ninth-grader at Spartanburg High School. “Then it just started doing wheelies. It was so weird.”

Georgia was one of five girls at the camp.

“I've never worked with these programs before, and it's just a great learning experience so far,” she said. “I'm really into music at school, but I wanted to broaden my horizons and see if I could incorporate music with technology.”

On Friday, campers will create an application for a tablet PC, then show off their skills during a showcase and pizza party with their parents.

“They have worn my teachers out,” said Marcia Schenck, chair of SCC's computer technology department.
“Promoting careers in STEM — that's what this is all about. This is the age where they have to make decisions in school about what classes to take, and a lot of girls don't choose technology or science, and we're trying to change that.”

Schenck also sees the camp, which will be held again in July, as a recruiting tool for prospective SCC students.

“We can show the students and parents what good equipment and instructors we have,” she said.