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High-School Seniors Have Fun-Filled Summer Exploring STEM Interests in Operation Catapult Program

August 13, 2015

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Fun-Filled Summer: “Every day was an entirely new experience” stated one student about this year’s Operation Catapult adventure. The program completed its 49th year this summer. (Photo by Bryan Cantwell)

High-achieving students from across the country have started their senior high-school years after having an exciting and fun-filled summer exploring their interests in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in Rose-Hulman’s Operation Catapult program.

They created prosthetic hands, rock-climbing robots, algae-based biodiesel, and earthquake-resistant building models.

They learned the Python computer language to create computer games, programmed microprocessors to make robotic projects, and examined the properties of aquaponics and bio plastics.

And, they designed a variety of walk-on-water devices, Frisbee- and football-throwing machines, and a solar cooker.

“I learned more than I ever thought I would,” said Olivia Ejde, from Chimacum, Washington. “I came here from a small town in the northwest, and from a high school with 67 students in my graduating class. I had never soldered, printed circuit boards, or worked with wiring something—and making everything work. It was really neat.”

Ejde worked with students from California, Massachusetts, and Ohio to create a Roomba robotic floor sweeper that used microcontroller technology and a sensor on an ankle bracelet to follow an operator around rooms in a house.

“It was a really neat project that worked, and was a great summer experience that pushed us to limits that we didn’t know we had within ourselves,” stated Amy McMahon, from Columbus, Ohio, on the final day of her Operation Catapult experience. “I had so much fun that I don’t want to go home.”

That sentiment was shared by the 324 students from 33 states, the District of Columbia, China, Hong Kong, and Canada after participating in the two 16-day sessions during Operation Catapult’s 49th year of providing exhilarating educational experiences.

Terrence Schildmeyer, from Loveland, Ohio, learned aspects of electronics, computer engineering, and software engineering to help three other students use Bluetooth technology to create a cube-shaped bass booster featuring hundreds of LED lights that changed colors with the music’s rhythmic beat.  

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Unique Experiences: Students from 33 states and three countries completed hands-on projects and learned about college life while participating in this summer’s Operation Catapult program. (Photo by Bryan Cantwell)

“Every day was an entirely new experience,” he said. “It was a great hands-on experience working with our faculty mentor [electrical and computer engineering professor Wayne Padgett], and I made a new group of great friends.”

Another team learned elements of Murphy’s Law—the adage that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”—when a malfunctioning bicycle chain kept their Walk on Water project from completing a trek across a campus pond.

“Everything was going swimmingly until today,” remarked Garrett Blanchard, from Centralia, Illinois, on the project demonstration day for Operation Catapult’s June session. “Yesterday, everyone had the opportunity to ride the project across the lake. Then, today something went wrong. However, we know that we created a device that had completed our assigned task, and had a lot of fun doing it.”

Meanwhile, an amphibious bicycle designed and constructed by the Build a Better Bike Corporation (with students from six different states) crossed the pond in two minutes and 43 seconds on the project demonstration day.

“A lot of trial and error got us to this point,” said Lucas van Eyck, from El Cerrito, California. “The payoff is amazing. We proved we could do it.”  

Besides the projects, students also had the opportunity to experience aspects of college campus life; took plant trips to learn about innovative practices at high-tech companies; visited professional engineers, scientists, and computer programmers; and attended lectures on interesting STEM topics by Rose-Hulman professors.

“There’s nothing like Operation Catapult in terms of giving students a true engineering experience—and there’s no grading,” says Program Director Patsy Brackin, professor of mechanical engineering. “We encourage the students to do their best. We let them learn to overcome failure to create really neat projects in a short amount of time. We let them use all of our facilities. They just couldn’t do this somewhere else.”

These unique experiences, and lots of new friendships, have motivated the students to make the most of their senior years in high school, and return to Rose-Hulman to be part of the 2016-17 freshman class.   

“If I keep working hard this school year, I can come to Rose-Hulman and continue the fun,” said Sean Mongoven, from Lake St. Louis, Missouri.