Engineering Camp: Disproving the stereotype of a lazy summer vacation


Evan Boucher

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

University of North Dakota


Hovercrafts, composite materials, complex milling, and mechanical navigation are all common concepts in an engineer’s profession. Most people, though, don’t find these as normal activities for teenagers during summer vacation.

As I entered the classroom for the Experiencing Engineering summer camp for teenagers at UND, I noticed the strangest TV show for such a young audience to be interested in: How it’s Made, a show about the production of various and often unexciting objects. Talk about disproving stereotypes of lazy afternoons and sleeping in.

The students in Associate Professor Matt Cavalli’s engineering summer camp are clearly interested in more than just a lazy summer of blockbuster movies and days at the pool.

Cavalli is Chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department for the School of Engineering and Mines. While his own specialization is in composite materials, he has taken time this summer to create a camp directed toward teenagers who are interested in engineering or engineering processes.

It’s one of many summer events held on campus to educate and inspire young people to think creatively and critically. In this instance, a great deal of the camp’s funding was from National Science Foundation, which may see budget cuts in the future.

The engineering camp’s activities included milling and creation of the materials to make a hovercraft, computer image design, robots, aluminum casting, toothpick and marshmallow bridges, and water quality testing.

“We’re making some composite materials out of carbon fiber and epoxy. We’re doing some aluminum casting, and making some bookends,” stated Cavalli. “We’re doing some material testing, testing that you would use to characterize the materials,” he continued.

When asked about their robots, the students discussed their different machines. “Mine looked like I made a scorpion,” interjected one student. He continued, “I used a guide.”

Another student touted the originality of his robot design, “I made an original. It was like a gorilla.” He told me the robot’s purpose was to navigate a series of challenges, saying, “there was a maze that went that way [gesturing a maze in the air].”

The hovercraft production was the culmination of the camp and the event for which the students had been preparing all week.

Cavalli discussed the process of hovercraft creation: “we could just use a piece of plywood to create the deck ... but we’re going to integrate composite fabrication, just to show them another manufacturing process. After that it’s mostly assembly … achieving the donut shape [on the bottom].”

The summer of 2011 at The University of North Dakota catered to a variety of interests across a variety of age groups. The engineering program, like many other disciplines, took advantage of “free time” during the summer to offer students exposure to new ideas or activities.