Cal State East Bay Discover Engineering! camp moves online due to COVID-19

Cal State East Bay Discover Engineering! camp moves online due to COVID-19
Cal State East Bay has moved online into a new design that will allow students, teachers and professionals to tune in from around the globe. (Photo credit: Garvin Tso/East Bay Today)

This story was originally published in East Bay Today.

Cal State East Bay’s annual Discover Engineering! camp will look a lot different this year. But then again, so do most activities these days.

The camp, typically a weeklong, residential program that brings Bay Area high school students to campus for a week of engineering activities and mentorship opportunities, has moved virtual. But the new design will allow students, teachers and professionals to tune in from around the globe. In total, more than 80 people are expected to participate from as far as the Philippines.

“It’s like we started the whole design of the camp over,” said Farzad Shahbodaghlou, professor of engineering at Cal State East Bay. “We eliminated the field trips, changed up the rubric and the design challenge, but filled the full five-day schedule with other activities.”

Thanks to support from Chevron, the 60-plus students participating this year have each received a loaner laptop, robot kit and materials for the competition at the end of the week.

Their robot’s mission? To successfully pick up a mock COVID-19 test specimen from the curbside and navigate the included challenge course to deliver the tube to an imaginary testing lab site.

Student teams of three will video their robot completing the course in separate videos and stitch them together remotely and upload to YouTube, and judges will use the submitted recordings to determine a winner.

Shahbodaghlou said that while this isn’t the way he and others imagined the camp going this year, it has been a “great challenge to solve.” And, he’s proud the team of teachers and faculty is still able to provide programming to students, many of whom come from underserved communities.

“Everyone is losing their minds being stuck at home, kids are at home, teachers are trying to teach online,” he said. “And for a lot of them, they can’t connect because they may not have internet or access to a laptop that isn’t shared by everyone else in the home. So, we said if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right and make it accessible to everyone.”

The final day of camp will conclude with a panel of several Bay Area engineers, including Chevron representatives, who will host small group chats in Zoom breakout rooms so students can have a chance to ask questions and learn more about different job opportunities in engineering. Then on Friday afternoon, a final presentation by all teams to the panel of judges will be followed by an award ceremony.

“The virtual component has enabled Chevron employees from all over to volunteer, including Richmond, San Ramon and people from our Houston office and El Segundo refinery,” said Lily Rahnema, community engagement manager of the Chevron Richmond Refinery, which has sponsored the event since 2014.  “It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity for our workforce across the nation to engage with these students, and hopefully inspire the next generation of engineers.”