High School Students Learn New Skills at Engineering Summer Academy

High school students Evelyn Smith and Ellie Toothaker collaborate on an EKG built from a breadboard.
Elizabeth DeMeo

High school students Evelyn Smith and Ellie Toothaker collaborate on an EKG built from a breadboard.

More than 70 high school students from Arkansas and beyond attended the University of Arkansas Engineering Summer Academy July 24-30, one of several Engineering Summer Camps offered for students in grades 3-12. During their time in the Academy, students spent a week focused on a particular aspect of engineering: biomedical, chemical, electrical or computing. After selecting an area of focus, students were given the chance to work on specific projects that offered them greater insight into the real world of engineering.

In the biomedical engineering section, students spent the week constructing heart rate monitors. They were tasked with creating EKGs using breadboards, which they then used to take their pulses. For many students, this type of work shed new light on what it meant to be a biomedical engineer—as rising high school junior Ellie Toothaker from Fayetteville explained, "I wasn't expecting to do circuitry but I like it a lot. There's really cool technology you have access to [here], and it's really fun." Added Jarret Hoover, a rising junior from Conway who is attending his fourth Summer Academy this year, "A lot of people don't know what engineering is like [and] this program shows you."

High school students Neil Balasekaran, Sanket Srivastava, and Grant Schoen review results.

In addition to offering students insight into engineering, the Academy is designed to give a sneak preview of college life here at the U of A. Older participants in the program have the chance to sleep on campus during their week here; this experience, as Hoover says, "gives you an idea of campus life" that pushes many students to keep coming back.

The Academy is also a chance for present U of A students to share what they've learned. Stated Katie Heath, a rising sophomore and current biomedical engineering major who helped the students build breadboards, "It's really fun to see them get the things we're telling them so quickly...they take in information like sponges."

High school student Richlan Rowland takes her pulse.

For university professors, the Academy is a welcome chance to expose new, often underrepresented, groups of students to engineering, particularly women. Stated Jeffrey Wolchok, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, "I always try to integrate my research and K-12 outreach. Research fuels the outreach, and the outreach gives me fresh perspectives and ideas about areas of research." What's more, he said, "Outreach to K-12 has become exceedingly crucial in the science and engineering fields. The overall recruiting of scientists and engineers has always been one major challenge in colleges and universities." Added Kartik Balachandran, also an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, "The BMEG camp has been an excellent form of outreach to expose underrepresented K-12 students from the state of Arkansas to cutting edge biomedical science research and tools."

"Our department and faculty are committed to doing their part in promoting STEM to all students, and particularly underrepresented groups. Hands-on activities designed by Drs. Balachandran and Wolchok are key to engaging the next generation of biomedical engineering researchers," said Raj Rao, professor and head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Members of the biomedical engineering section of the Engineering Summer Academy with Dr. Wolchok and Dr. Balachandran.

Ultimately, said Wolchok, "This camp and others like it around the country are great examples of the broader impacts generated by funding provided by the National Science Foundation." Notably, the impacts of the Academy extend far beyond the week spent on campus, as many students are inspired by their time here to apply to the University of Arkansas. Stated Heath, "We talked about where they want to go to college and a lot of them are interested in going here."

Note that the outreach reported in this article was supported by the National Science Foundation (CMMI 1404716 and CMMI 1452943), as well as the National Institutes of Health.


Elizabeth DeMeo, media specialist
Biomedical Engineering
479-575-4667, eademeo@uark.edu

Eric Specking, director of undergraduate recruitment
College of Engineering
479-575-7780, especki@uark.edu


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