They ran and jumped, danced and sang, laughed and cheered – just like hundreds of other grade school kids at summer camp in San Diego. But, the 300 lucky third- through fifth-graders that are attending the “Summer Engineering Experience for Kids” (SEEK) on the San Diego State University campus, are doing – and learning – a lot more than that.
This is only the second summer the free, three-week SEEK camp has been offered in San Diego and SDG&E again is a major sponsor of the program. The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) came up with the idea back in 2007 to increase student’s aptitude in math and science as well as their interest in pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) career fields by engaging in interactive, team-based engineering projects. NSBE has facilitated the start of a number of camps both in the Midwest & East Coast. Last year was the first SEEK camp on the West Coast.
“The goal of the camp is to provide minority kids with role models who can show them that ‘A&E’ in our underserved communities doesn’t have to stand for athletes and entertainers; it also can mean ‘academic excellence,’” said Carl Mack, executive director of NSBE.
“SEEK is such an innovative program,” said Mike Niggli, SDG&E’s president and chief operating officer. “College students who are NSBE members serve as mentors who engage these young minds through hands-on projects to learn the fundamentals of math, science, and engineering. I’ve seen these kids in action and their energy and enthusiasm are good indicators that learning these subjects can be fun!”
Niggli challenged three SDG&E engineers to develop an “energy-related” piece of the curriculum for this summer’s SEEK camp. Kazeem Omidiji, an associate engineer on the Sunrise Powerlink project, Christian Henderson, an engineer II in Grid Operations and Henry Cobb, an engineer II in Distribution Operations, came up with the idea of building a mini, solar-powered car. The trio collaborated on securing the vehicle design, which sports a solar panel about the size of a credit card. They also wrote the lesson plan and construction directions, and taught the module to the mentors, who then educated the students and challenged the students to design their own car body.
“As the kids built the models, they learned basic math and power engineering concepts, and when they raced their customized cars, the vehicles were judged on speed, weight and accuracy,” said Omidiji.
“It’s a great feeling to watch the kids have so much fun putting their cars together and then racing them,” said Cobb. “I think I’ve had almost as much fun as they have and it’s nice to know you’re helping prepare these students for a possible future career as a scientist or engineer.”
The local SEEK camp is made possible thanks to contributions from companies including SDG&E, Solar Turbines, Northrup Grumman, San Diego State University, Life Technologies and Accurate Engineering. This year, the U.S. Marines was a major supporter to the camp.
“Like SDG&E, other employers in the energy and technology industries, as well as the military, are aware we need to keep the workforce pipeline filled with young people who have the right set of skills to meet the challenges of the future,” said Niggli.