Discover Engineering at UTPA Camp opens doors to possible careers
By Amanda Perez, Intern
Posted: 07/30/2010
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Middle school students got a glimpse into possible career opportunities they can pursue in the future at the first "Discover Engineering at UTPA Camp" July 26-29 at The University of Texas-Pan American.

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Pictured left to right are Errol Lizzotte, a Morris Junior High School student, and Javi Rios, a Michael Fossum Middle School student, working on circuit boards during the camp.
The camp, hosted by the College of Science and Engineering focused on the five engineering majors offered at UTPA. Twenty-five middle school students from across the Valley and as far away as Houston were introduced to various fields in engineering: manufacturing, electrical, computer and civil engineering and computer science.

UTPA is host to other camps, such as the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp, that help students prepare for careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but Discover Engineering is different in that it focuses primarily in providing information on careers in engineering, said Dr. Miguel Gonzalez, associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering.

“This is why we call the camp, Discover Engineering at UTPA,” Gonzalez said. “We talk about various fields in engineering and include hands-on activities for the students.”

UTPA engineering and computer science professors led the camp's classes where students learned about what each major entails and gained knowledge first-hand about programming and constructing microprocessors, electrical circuit boards, LEGO airplanes and robots.

Ana Rocio Rivera, an eighth grader at Travis Middle School in McAllen, said she is really interested in engineering and hopes to be an aerospace engineer when she grows up. "I know which type of engineering I want to be in, but this camp has given me a taste of everything," Rivera said. "Now I can make my mind up early with exactly what I want to do and start taking the classes that will help me in college during high school."

Rivera hopes to pursue her engineering career at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina or Rice University in Houston, Texas.

The goal of the camp is to provide middle school students who have never been exposed to engineering or are curious about what an engineer does with information from experts that will guide them in making an informed decision on engineering fields they can pursue.

UTPA worked with Region One Education Service Center (ESC) in selecting students who have not had the opportunity of attending other camps hosted by UTPA.

“Research shows that middle school is the most appropriate time to begin talking to students about careers,” Gonzalez said. “Middle school gives the students enough time to make decisions and prepare for classes that pertain to their major early. In our case, it would be a math class; we don’t want them to fall behind.”

Jonathon Sanchez, a seventh grader at Dr. Rodney D. Cathy Middle School in McAllen, said engineering is something he knows he wants to major in, but he has not made up his mind of what type of engineering he wants pursue.

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Pictured left to right are Marc Vallejo, a South Middle School student, and Jesus Salinas, a Irene Garcia Middle School student, constructing a robot during the camp.
"I know time flies, so I am going to learn everything they give me here," Sanchez said. "They concentrate and focus on engineering, so now I have a better understanding. It's even harder to decide now because they have given me so many other choices."

Rene Fonseca, from Bleyl Middle School in Houston, agrees that he has gained a better understanding of engineering and knowledge he can use.

"I'll benefit a lot from this camp. It's going to help me be a better engineer, better at school and teach me how to persevere and never give up on something," Fonseca said.

The camp gave students the opportunity of experiencing college life. They were housed in Troxel Hall and were given access to activities in the Wellness and Recreation Sports Complex. They also viewed a show at UTPA's planetarium, participated in an outdoor telescope activity and attended an Edinburg Roadrunner's Baseball game.

Gonzalez said at the end of the day they hope they have made a difference by giving students the opportunity to make the right choices in either their like or dislike for engineering and computer science.

"Even if we have reached at least a few students, then this camp was successful," Gonzalez said. "We look forward to holding the camp again and improving it so we do it better every time."

For more information on the Discover Engineering at UTPA Camp, contact the College of Science and Engineering at (956) 665-2673.