Elementary and middle school kids learn engineering from aerodynamics to rocketeering

Mark Stith loves the concept of building airplanes.

The seventh-grader from Havelock was among 110 elementary and middle school students who participated in two engineering camps in Havelock in the last two weeks.

N.C. State University and Craven Community College teamed for its middle school engineering camp last week for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, and the Eastern Carolina Aviation Heritage Foundation hosted its engineering camp for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders this week at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.

Engineers from Fleet Readiness Center East joined area science, technology and engineering and math teachers for the camps.

“All in all, if you’re very creative and you really like to build stuff, this would be your camp,” said Stith, who completed the camp for younger kids last year and did the one for older kids last week. “What I’m really enjoying are the airplanes. You can build it. You can sand it. You can make sure that air goes onto it properly so that it can stay in the air longer and also that you can paint it in any other color that you want.”

Joshua McGee, a seventh-grade teacher from West Craven Middle School, has done the NCSU/CCC camp for the last nine years.

“In the school, we get a lot of book knowledge into them, the actual concept, but here they are actually seeing it hands on, first-hand how to take that knowledge and put it into action and take it above and beyond what they would ordinarily do in their regular classroom,” said McGee.

Ethan Hartley, a seventh-grader from Morehead City, was outside testing his airplane with new friend Stith.

“It is amazing how much experiences and how much new things you can learn here,” said Hartley. “We can program robots and we get to build stuff by hand and learn how most of the things we do here work. It’s very fun and there’s no homework, so I guess a lot of kids won’t mind that.”

Beau Thomas, an eighth-grader from New Bern, was there with his plane too.

“We are being taught the shapes of aerodynamics, how to program robots, the meaning of hydraulics, and also we are learning how to create motorless cars that are powered with things such as air and gravity,” said Thomas.

Sierra Windland, a Havelock eighth-grader, said she enjoyed the experience of being an engineer.

“I really like the fact that you would be helping people while doing something creative and doing math problems,” she said.  

Aerospace engineer Riley St. Pierre, who works with drives and power propulsion systems at FRC East, was one of the engineers that help with the aviation foundation camp.

“I just graduated, so using the knowledge that I just gained as a student and all the engineering principles that we learned and getting out and seeing young students that have a passion for engineering is cool for me,” said the Virginia Tech graduate. “Just being able to tell these students what you can get out of engineering in school and life and being able to pass that on to them is pretty cool.”

Engineer John Troy, who works on structures on the H-53 helicopter at FRC East, said he did this type of stuff when he was a kid.

“This is how you get interested in engineering and that’s obviously the path I chose, so it’s great to be here and be like the role model that I had when I was a kid growing up and help other people get interested in engineering the same way I did,” Troy said.  

Retired Marine major general Tom Braaten, chairman of the ECAHF and a former base commander at Cherry Point, said part of the mission of the foundation is to work in the field of education and the camp is to get kids excited about learning.

“We don’t do anything for them. We’ll just give them a hint now and then and let them carry on and get that spirit of innovation and working together and working through that whole engineering process of having a problem and deciding how to fix it. That’s what we want them to do,” he said. “That way they will like education and they’ll study harder when they go back to school.

“The kids don’t need to be corrected. They’re not tested. They are given opportunities and so the teacher gets to play a different kind of a role, more like a camp counselor.”

Expanding the knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering and science is the goal.

“I think it’s a growing field … and it’s a very important one in my opinion, so I think it’s cool to get these kids excited about math andengineering,” said N.C. State student Zack Gross, who is acting as an aerospace engineer at FRC East through an internship. “It’s an all-around knowledge and with that knowledge you can kind of go anywhere and do anything.”

The aviation foundation camp increased from 40 children to 50 this year to handle demand.

“The kids are having a blast and learning about different engineering concepts,” said Tiffany York, a Bangert Elementary School teacher who is participating. “They get exposed to careers that they might not have thought about before and they get to use skills that they didn’t even know that they had.”