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‘Operation Catapult’ Continues Launching Young Minds for STEM

June 20, 2014

Catapult 3 Students

Hands-On Projects: Graham Cassel of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, prepares to cut a piece for a walk-on-water project designed with Jonathan Vorjohan of Maryville, Tennessee; Natalie Gilbert of Indianapolis; and Jennifer Welch of Blue Ash, Ohio. (Photo by Dale Long)


That’s been a word used to describe Operation Catapult, Rose-Hulman’s ground-breaking educational program that has launched the careers of successful engineers, scientists, and mathematicians for the past 48 years.

“It’s been a blast and the best part of my summer,” says Zachary Keslin, who is one of several visiting upcoming high-school seniors who is creating a mechanical device that allows a person to walk across a campus pond.

“I wanted to experience what college would be like and further my understanding of engineering. So far, it was exceeded my expectations—and we’re only in the first week,” states the teenager from Munster, Indiana.

Operation Catapult provides high-school students their first experience in applied engineering and science. They’re creating robots and algae-based biodiesel; examining aerodynamics through wind tunnel testing; studying crayfish electrocardiograms; and learning programming languages to create computer games and micro-controlled vehicles. They are also designing commuter bicycles, Frisbee throwers, model airplanes, and solar collectors.

“Students from throughout the country come together and within days are working together with faculty mentors to learn valuable lessons about the method of scientific discovery, while having lots of fun,” states Mechanical Engineering Professor Patsy Brackin, PhD, who has been directing the program since 2005. “Operation Catapult is unique because of the access we give students to explore their interests by using our state-of-the-art facilities.”

Besides working on projects, students also learn about engineering and science careers, attend faculty-led lectures on advanced in current technology, take field trips to visit professional engineers, and enjoy intramural and other fun-filled activities.

Catapult Computer Students

Examining Project Options: Four high-school students study options for designing one of the many projects being constructed during the first of two Operation Catapult sessions being conducted on campus this summer.

“There’s a nice mix of working on STEM projects while still having a fun summer,” says Jennifer Welch, a student from Blue Ash, Ohio.

Natalie Gilbert of Indianapolis adds, “Everyone told me that this was going to be an important summer for me. So, I wanted to get the ‘college experience’ and see if engineering is what I really want to do.”  

A total of 326 students from throughout the United States, China, India, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore attending this summer’s two sessions.

Admission to the Operation Catapult program is highly selective with academic requirements being 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. Approximately 35 percent of the program’s participants return to study at Rose-Hulman.