Operation Catapult Celebrating 50 Years of Inspiring Teens into STEM

Friday, June 30, 2017

Summer Learning: High school students from throughout the world once again came to the Operation Catapult program this summer to explore their interests in engineering and science.

It may be a stretch to state that high school students are performing miracles this summer at Rose-Hulman’s Operation Catapult program. However, they are creating devices that allow a person to walk on water.

And, that’s not all. They have also completed hands-on projects that could be pulled from the day’s headlines: autonomous vehicles, e-commerce, biofuels and material sciences, to name just a few.

Over the course of the last 50 years, the Operation Catapult program has lived up to its name, inspiring close to 10,000 high school students to explore their interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in a residential camp experience that may be the oldest in the country of its kind.

For two 15-day sessions each summer, high school students preparing to enter their senior year work in teams with a Rose-Hulman faculty mentor to complete a variety of hands-on projects. The students also visit plants to learn about innovative practices at high-tech Indiana companies; meet engineers, scientists and computer programmers; and attend lectures by Rose-Hulman professors on a variety of STEM issues.

Nearly 300 students from throughout the world participated in this year’s sessions. They came to learn more about engineering and science, while experiencing college life before entering their final year of high school.

Designing a device that allows a person to walk on water was a task undertaken by six teams during the June session. Three projects used floating shoe-type concepts to take steps, while another trio used walking motion to trigger mechanisms that caused paddles to propel the person across a campus pond. Each of them had different forms of success.

“This was an experience that you don’t really get that often. On top of that, it was neat seeing that our creation worked,” says Bruno Schardong, from West Chester, Ohio.

Josie Parker, from Zionsville, Ind., added, “You learn that not every idea is going to work as planned,  you have to keep trying, and there’s more than one way to complete a task. It has been a lot of fun, while learning what engineering is all about.”

See some of the fun and excitement at this year’s sessions here.

Over the years, new projects and technologies have been introduced while certain perennial favorites, such as the program’s signature trebuchet launch, continue to spark interest, according to Michael Robinson, one of seven Rose-Hulman faculty members who have been program directors during its 50-year history.

“There’s a lot of trial and error in each of these projects, and that’s a valuable lesson for students learn at any age -- that it’s OK to fail,” said the director.   

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