The remote-controlled robot quickly climbed the ramp, then slowed up just before the bridge. It carefully crossed, but it didn’t need to. The crossing looked rather effortless. Still, cheers erupted in the classroom auditorium last week in the Valley Business & Technology Center at California State University East Bay in Hayward.
Indeed, there was plenty reason to cheer. Nothing, in actuality, was effortless about the accomplishments of 68 Contra Costa County students, the majority from West County, who participated in the weeklong Chevron-sponsored Cal State East Bay Discover Engineering! Camp.
In its fourth year, the hundreds of students, many from underserved neighborhoods, who have taken part in this summer camp won’t tire of the moment when robots they programmed successfully cross bridges they also built.
It’s not the only sturdy bridge being built by the camp. For one week, the students live in dorms on the Cal State East Bay campus and spend long days designing, developing and troubleshooting as part of a collaborative team. They’re essentially getting the college experience.
A few months before the first day of camp, the students pay a visit to Cal State East Bay and receive an orientation from admissions and financial staff, said Dr. Cristian Gaedicke, assistant professor in the department of engineering at Cal State East Bay.
Discover Engineering! aims to be a yearlong influence keeping students interested and confident about the prospect of a college education, and careers in STEM. The program has provided exposure to engineering to more than 600 Contra Costa students, officials said.
“We send engineering and construction manager students [from Cal State] to the high schools to meet students and teachers, to establish a relationship, then we combine it with a student visit to our campus for an orientation that described the process of becoming a college student,” Gaedicke said.
Each year culminates with the Discover Engineering! camp where students “live in the dorms and create robots and bridges, the equivalent of an engineering student here at CSU East Bay,” Gaedicke said.
And that means career preparation, as students are challenged to collaborate with “coworkers and partners to complete the project on time, and on scale,” the professor added.
Dr. Farzad Shahbodaghlou, associate professor and director of construction management at Cal State East Bay, is pleased the program invites eighth graders, but hopes to incorporate even younger students.
“We find that even [eighth grade] is a little too late maybe, because you got to catch them in the grade schools,” he said.
The full camp experience has increased students’ interest in math, said Edgar Monroy, a math teacher at Pinole Middle School.
“These hands on projects, which include math and science, helps them go back to their math class and actually want to do their math work,” Monroy said.
Monroy said he heard about the program through visits by Chevron representatives at West Contra Costa Unified School District schools.
“Chevron is proud to sponsor the Cal State East Bay Discover Engineering! Camp, as it has proven to be a rich resource for schools in our community and is inspiring a new generation of STEM professionals,” said Andrea Bailey, community engagement manager for Chevron.