Test piloting a career in engineering

Photo of two girls working on an electrical component for the drone project.

Participants in the UB/National Grid Leadership Camp work on making a drone for use in response and relief efforts following disasters.

High school students work on hands-on engineering drone project in annual UB/National Grid Leadership Camp

By Sarah D'Iorio

Published August 9, 2017

“I hope the campers get a better idea through this experience of what they want to do in the future.”
Brian Smith

Choosing an area of study for a college degree is a major decision, one that can be difficult for many teens. How do you know if a degree in engineering is a good fit, for example, if you have never tried it?

Fortunately, for a group of local high school students that decision may have just gotten easier. As part of the 2017 UB/National Grid Leadership Camp, 60 rising high school sophomores and juniors spent four days at the University at Buffalo learning about careers in STEM, experiencing campus life, and working together on an engineering design project.

Ken Kujawa, Regional Manager at National Grid, spoke to the camp participants about the increasing need for engineering talent at National Grid and throughout the Western New York region.

“We want to stimulate your minds this week,” he said. “You may not end up working for National Grid, but we want your brain power here in Western New York.”

Since the camp’s inception four years ago, the theme has rotated from air to land to sea. This year’s challenge, focusing on the air theme, was to build an environmental drone and an obstacle course that could be used to conduct testing in safety, recovery and disaster scenarios.

To accomplish their task, the students were divided into four teams of 15 students each. Each team consisted of three groups that focused on different aspects of the project: drone construction, flight/software, and obstacle course.

Brian Smith, Founder and Executive Director of EduSerc, developed the concept for this year’s project and provided guidance to the students throughout the duration of the camp. Smith stressed the importance of working in teams, saying that true engineering often involves bringing together different thought processes to find a solution to a problem.

“I hope they learn how to communicate with each other, listen to each other’s ideas, and use critical thinking skills to build a solution,” said Smith, who has a background in electrical engineering and 24 years’ experience in robotics. “I hope they get a better idea through this experience of what they want to do in the future.”

Camp participants are students with an aptitude in math and science who are nominated to take part in the program by a school representative. SEAS especially encourages nominations of students from groups that are underrepresented in STEM professions.

Throughout the week, the students used skills in electronics, robotics, mechanics and construction to complete their projects. On the last day of the camp, the students tested their drones in the obstacle courses they had constructed.

Several students in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences volunteer with the camp each year. Jenna Le, mechanical engineering sophomore and first time camp volunteer, said she really enjoyed the experience.

“I love working with the students. They are extremely smart,” said Le. “It’s cool seeing the engineering in action and seeing the different ideas come together.”

Engineering camp

Each summer, UB's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and National Grid host a four-day engineering camp for Western New York students entering their sophomore or junior year of high school. Here are some highlights from this year’s camp, held July 31 through Aug. 3 on the North Campus.

Published August 8, 2017