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SECS outreach programs boost engineering interest in youth

Tuesday, September 2, 2014
SECS outreach programs boost engineering interest in youth

By Stephanie Sokol, SECS Communications Assistant

Oakland University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science (SECS) provides a great place for students to learn more about the field of engineering— and not just those admitted into the program.

From camps, to field trips and special “engineering days,” OUSECS has a variety of outreach programs to get children and teens interested in engineering and related fields. 

“My favorite part (about outreach) is watching the students get excited about what they’re doing,” said Chris Kobus, director of outreach and associate professor of engineering. “I used to do a majority of the material, but now I have a staff of students and I get to watch and see the progress of the students. The kids are very happy — it’s a great feeling.”

The hands-on activities started about 4 years ago, when the school started offering general engineering and computer science exploration summer camps. 

A relationship began with Pontiac Schools, and gradually, camps expanded from general exploration camps to more focused programs. 

After positive feedback from the parents and kids, the camps have expanded greatly — providing more options and facilitating an increase from 100 to about 700 attendees in the summer alone. 

“From mid June to mid-August, the students are here all day, everyday,” Kobus said.

STEM camps take place on OU’s main campus, the OUInc business incubator and the Macomb County satellite Anton Frankel Center. OU engineering undergrads and other local engineering students lead the camps, instructing the hands-on activity, which they plan with direction from Kobus.

While the camps benefit the community, they also help the program grow. With jobs increasing in the engineering field, more graduates are needed, so gaging students’ interest — and indulging and encouraging them in those interests early on — is crucial.

“Around 7th and 8th grade, parents start talking to their kids about what they want to do,” Kobus said. “Having an opportunity to come out to a STEM camp — either a focused camp or general exploration camp where they learn a bit of everything — helps kids get acquainted with what the substance is, and get excited because now they get to decide what math and science courses they might take next year, and into high school. If they want to be in the STEM field, they’ll need to take a certain pathway to get there, so this both prepares them and lights their fire for the subject.”

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) camps focus on hands-on, project-based learning. Students have the opportunity to apply material and themes to real-world situations, through experiments and projects, for a unique learning experience.

Noelle Rossetto, who is home-schooled, found out about STEM camps from her sister. Attending them was enjoyable for her, and the work she did made her more interested in engineering and computer science.

“It was really fun,” Rossetto said. “I did a lot of stuff that I haven’t done before, and that I honestly didn’t think I could do. Making web pages was my favorite, because I liked writing the code. I would definitely come back again.”

Rochester Hills resident Kristin Schreck enrolled her children in STEM camps for the first time this summer, and said they will attend again next year.

Abby Schreck, 11, and Nate Schreck, 9, both took part in an Engineering Exploration week and had a great time learning new things.

“I think the most valuable part of the camp was that my kids were able to see a side of science and technology that they don't get a lot of exposure to in school,” Schreck said. “The topics were current and relevant, and taught by experts in the field. Lessons were explained to them in a technical way, but in a way they could understand and get excited about and have fun with. The counselors were excellent too, and explained so much about OU's campus during the tours.”

Kobus said the camps have continued to grow, and in turn, have boosted enrollment in the OU Engineering and Computer Science Programs. 

He said he plans to continue adding more outreach programs each year — from STEM camps to field trips and visits to schools — because of the positive effects they have on everyone involved.

“The whole point is to get more students excited about STEM,” Kobus said. “For every student who graduates, there’s two or more job openings — we can’t possibly fill them all without increasing enrollment. It (STEM) has done quite a bit for our enrollment. Since this program got rolled out a few years ago, our enrollment has almost doubled. From 2009-2014, we’ve almost doubled the number of students we have. We’re growing this year— about 20 percent. You don’t see that kind of growth in other units on campus. So what’s different? The outreach program. We’re getting the name out there.”

For more information about the outreach program, visit