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Record Number of High School Seniors Explore Interests in STEM Fields at ‘Operation Catapult’ Program

July 24, 2012

A record number of high-school seniors from throughout the world have taken steps toward careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through the Operation Catapult program.

             Catapult 2012-1
  Examining Aerodynamics: A team of four students closely watch a wind tunnel test in the Rotz Laboratory during the July session of this year's Operation Catapult program.

A total of 310 students from 36 states and five international countries spent two and a half weeks in one of the oldest and most successful summer enrichment experiences in the STEM fields. This year's program enrollment is 10 percent higher than previous years. The second of two summer sessions continues through Wednesday, July 25.

For 46 years, Operation Catapult has enabled students who have completed their junior year of high school to participate in hands-on engineering projects and experience a slice of campus life. There are also plant trips to learn about innovative practices at high-tech Indiana companies; visits to engineers, scientists and computer programmers; and lectures by Rose-Hulman professors on a variety of STEM issues.

This summer's projects featured biofuels distillation, wind tunnel testing, using rapid prototyping, studying about alcohol fuel gels, creating computer games and Frisbee throwing devices, and making micro-controlled vehicles.

"From the beginning, Operation Catapult's goal has been to give high-school students their first experience in applied engineering," stated Mechanical Engineering Professor Patsy Brackin, Ph.D., who has been directing the program since 2005. "We throw students into engineering and give them a push in the right direction."

John Beutter of Los Altos, Calif., joined three students in developing an intricate pulley and belt system that utilized one motor to power two fans for lifting and moving a model hovercraft.    

"The system was revolutionary, a first-of-its-kind," stated Beutter. "When we heard that powering two fans off one motor hadn't been done, we just had to do it."

Assisting in the project, completed during the June session, were Ivel Lee Collins of Fairfax, Va., David Richey of Zionsville, Ind., and Lance Clodfelter of Roachdale, Ind.

"I wanted a summer experience in which I could build something cool," stated Collins. "I found the experience very interesting."

    Catapult 2012-2        Catapult 2012-5
  Working Together: Jean Toro of Ecuador and Melissa LaChance of
Park Hills, Mo., make conclusions on their wind tunnel project that
was completed during Operation Catapult's July session.
    Up, Up And Away: Creating a smart Ping-Pong ball
training device during this summer's Operation
Catapult program were (bottom, from left) C.J.
Miller, John Kirschenheiter, Thomas Visnack and
Brendan Moriarty.

Julie Martin of Singapore used wind and water tunnels to study the aerodynamic characteristics of flapping wings. Assisting in this discovery were Alexandra Ullberg of Flossmoor, Ill., and Brianna Hibbler of Fishers, Ind.

"It was nice to learn something together," stated Martin, who had never used a wind tunnel. "I now feel that I actually know what I can do in engineering."

Meanwhile, Charles Angelastro of Newbury, Calif., referred to this year's Operation Catapult experience as "nerdvana." He joined four students in testing failure in balsa wood bridge trusses.

"This was an incredible experience," he said. "I came into Operation Catapult against my will, kicking and screaming. My parents thought it would be good for me. Instead of this, I wanted to spend two and a half weeks with my friends back home. At the end, I ended up spending a great time with dozens of new friends with who I have so much in common."

For the second straight summer, the program has an international flair as visitors from Huazhong University of Science and Technology's QiMing College in Wuhan, China served as technical mentors for several projects. Rose-Hulman is working with the institution to develop a program similar to Operation Catapult in that country.

   Catapult 2012-3     Catapult 2012-4
  Having Fun With Computers: Learning the Python language to create a Pac-Man type computer game were (from left) Jackie Preston, Abigail Anderson, Christine Pouw and Eleanor Holley.     Floating Their Boat: The team of (from left)  Ben Kunst, Paul Dunaway, Christian Hsu and Shai Sabaroche created a high-speed autonomous boat during Operation Catapult's July session.  

"We have a program that's unique and growing in popularity. We're hoping to address the high demand for college graduates with backgrounds in STEM careers," stated Brackin.

Admission to the Operation Catapult program is highly selective with academic requirements that are similar to those required for admission to Rose-Hulman as a high-school graduate. Students must have completed three years of math and one year of chemistry or physics.

A large majority of students attending Operation Catapult select to major in STEM areas at colleges throughout the world. Rose-Hulman's record-breaking 615 freshman class for 2012-13 includes 93 graduates from last summer's program. 

Learn more about Rose-Hulman's Operation Catapult program.