Engineering camp reaches out to first-generation college students

New program aims to make high school students aware of opportunities at University of Nevada, Reno

Engineering camp reaches out to first-generation college students

New program aims to make high school students aware of opportunities at University of Nevada, Reno

For 24 aspiring college students, next week may be a glimpse into their future.

The College of Engineering will be hosting its first ever MESA/First Generation Engineering Camp. MESA, or Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement, is a nationwide college-preparation program that strives to increase the number of minority, low-income and first-generation college students. All of the registered campers are potential first-generation college students.

Although the camp activities will focus on engineering, its goals are much broader, according to Shanelle Davis, MESA Coordinator for the College of Engineering.

"In addition to learning about engineering, I want the students to experience other aspects of university life," Davis said. "They don't always have parents, siblings or others in their close circle who have been to college, and we'd like to use this camp to show them some of the other opportunities that are available at the University."

The camp supports a central component of the College of Engineering's outreach efforts, which is to reach a broader and more diverse community.

"Engineering at its core is problem solving," said Angelina Padilla, a lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and a camp instructor. "Engineers solve society's technical problems and we need people from as many different perspectives as possible to develop the best possible solutions."

Padilla knows first-hand how valuable programs like MESA can be. Padilla was a MESA student in California from junior high through her undergraduate years in college.

"Without the MESA program, I would not have become an engineer and I would not be where I am today," said Padilla, who earned her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Stanford University before joining the University of Nevada, Reno.

The camp, which is designed for 13- to 16-year-old students, will incorporate many activities from the College's popular Introduction to Engineering camp. For example, students will participate in a seismic challenge where they construct buildings out of toothpicks and gumdrops and test their structural integrity on a mini shake table. Other activities include building and testing bottle rockets and a field trip to the Nevada Department of Transportation that features a hands-on introduction to community planning and infrastructure.

In addition to the engineering activities, the camp will include a campus tour and a panel with current engineering students where campers can learn more about the college experience.

The camp will culminate in a mentoring luncheon with representatives from University programs aimed to increase access for first-generation college students as well as a reception for parents where campers will give short presentations about their experience.

The camp complements the College's permanent MESA program. During the academic year, University students work with three local schools to provide tutoring, mentorship and hands-on activities related to STEM education.

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