Throughout the summer, high school and junior high students have been gathering at Southern Methodist University for week-long engineering camps. High schoolers tackled a tough challenge. Devise – then build – one of several electronic items like an alarm clock or home burglary system. Only make it smaller, cheaper and faster than what’s out there. And finish it in just days.
Everyone’s deadline-busy in SMU’s maker-space – the Deason Innovation Gym. With the clock ticking, Conrad High School 17 year-old Chan Hnin and his three team mates are building their own, unusual, alarm clock.
“The battery life is way longer and it’s also louder than your phone,” Chan says. “Some people are sleepy headed, you know?”
Chan is on one of four teams of high school boys here to learn real engineering through hands-on experience. London Morris, from Lancaster High School, explains why their clock’s an improvement.
“We’re human so we end up messing up and making mistakes,” London says. “I will forget to charge my phone throughout the night, so my phone goes dead, I don’t hear my alarm, I oversleep. I have an alarm clock right there to wake me up. That’s why we built this alarm.”
These boys, all awake now, are here for a week. There’s an all-girls camp too. This boy’s camp is free – it’s based on family income. Some other weekly camps come with tuition. No matter which camp, all kids have to show they can handle it, through grades and teacher recommendations. Teens learn to solder, program small Raspberry Pi computers, use a laser cutter, 3-D printer, and code, which few have ever done.
Recent SMU engineering graduate Parker Holloway came up with the curriculum after working his undergrad summers here teaching kids. He wants to spark passion.
“If you go and you sit in class in an engineering class and listen to theory for four years, then you’re going to enter the workforce and have a job you don’t love,” Holloway says.
Instead he says, get involved as a student, solving real-life challenges like a real, working engineer would, in a working lab.
“Then,” Holloway continues, “you can start your job after four years and it’s something that you’re looking forward to.”