Caleb watches as instructor Wilson checks his instrument's wiring
Caleb Dewan, left, works with instructor Andrea Wilson at Summer Engineering Academy.

At Hawaiʻi Community College’s six-week Summer Engineering Academy, middle and high school students learned to think and solve problems like engineers—while also having fun.

The students tackled subjects like computer programming, electronics and architecture, which sound complex and intimidating even to many adults. But the program is designed to demystify these subjects through hands-on projects like creating Rube Goldberg machines, light and sound meters and self-driving model cars.

“What we’re trying to do is introduce engineering to kids in a fun, practical way to spark their interest in engineering fields,” said Naveen Siriah, information technology specialist at Hawaiʻi CC and an instructor in the Summer Engineering Academy. “Kids are often scared of engineering, but the idea here is to build their confidence and show them that they can do it if they find the engineering field that suits them and pursue it.”

Inspiring students at a young age

Meghan Wong, who will be a junior at Kamehameha Schools in the fall, said Summer Engineering Academy was useful for exploring career options. “You get to see a range of different types of engineering,” she said.

A lot of the students, like Catherine Cornella, liked the project to develop a Rube Goldberg machine because of the creative latitude it gave them. “The Rube Goldberg machine was pretty cool,“ Cornella said. “It was completely original. They didn’t give us a design to work with, they just gave us the parts.”

The Summer Engineering Academy culminated in a science fair held July 21 at the Hawaiʻi CC campus in Hilo where students presented projects to their families and community members and received certificates.

This summer was the first time Hawaiʻi CC offered the Summer Engineering Academy, and more than 20 students enrolled. The program was established through a partnership with Honolulu CC and aided by a legislative appropriation that allowed Hawaiʻi CC to provide the classes to the students at no charge.

“Summer Engineering Academy intends to inspire students at a young age in hopes that they will eventually enroll at a higher education institution and succeed in STEM programs,” said Jessica Yamamoto, the director of the Hawaiʻi CC Office of Continuing Education and Training, which organized the program. “It was a very successful first year and we hope to offer it next summer as well.”

For more on the Summer Engineering Academy, read the full Hawaiʻi CC story.

—By Thatcher Moats