Camps Immerse High Schoolers in Engineering


Esmeralda Fisher
STEP Forward Camp
STEP Forward Camp

The UH Cullen College of Engineering hosted two camps last month, giving area high school students a head start in the world of engineering.

STEP Forward Camp, hosted by the Program for Mastery in Engineering Studies (PROMES), is a weeklong camp for rising twelfth-graders who are interested in getting a closer look at engineering. Participants live on-campus for the week, and learn from Cullen College faculty while working on team-based projects and activities. Visits to Houston companies like ExxonMobil and HP give the campers access to the professional engineering environment.

Many of the campers choose to study engineering based on the advice of family members who are in the profession, like Nishant Raman from Clear Lake High School, and Abhinav Agrawal from Seven Lakes High School.

"My brother is in engineering and he really likes it," Nishant said. "I’d like to study electrical engineering and go into the natural gas industry. I like computers and electronics."

Abhinav belongs to a family of engineers, and he enjoys math and science as well. He’s particularly interested in circuit design, and aims to study electrical engineering.

Undergraduate Cindy Sanchez, a chemical engineering sophomore at UH, was approached by PROMES Director Kathy Zerda with the opportunity to be one of the counselors for STEP Forward Camp.

"It’s a really good experience for the students," Cindy said. "They get useful information, not just for when they come to camp, but for when they apply to college. I like working with these students and letting them know what kind of opportunities are out there."

Now in its ninth year, the Girls Reaching and Demonstrating Excellence (GRADE) Camp welcomed 8th-12th grade girls who are interested in pursuing a STEM field. Two one-week sessions brought 51 campers to Cullen College for an interactive schedule of classroom lectures and activities, such as circuit bingo, robotics lab, and presentations. This summer the camp reached its 700th camper.

Sheena Mohebalian worked behind the scenes at GRADE Camp. She recently graduated from Friendswood High School and has decided to study mechanical engineering. She participated in GRADE Camp as a camper three years ago. "GRADE Camp was my first look into engineering and it taught me all about the different fields," she said. "It helped me narrow it down to what I wanted to major in."

Elizabeth Coffee, a recent graduate of the UH biomedical engineering program, served as a super-mentor to the GRADE campers, helping to organize the camp’s schedule of events, leading the activities and sharing their experiences and advice. Elizabeth, who will be attending medical school in the fall, first became involved with GRADE Camp in 2008 after her freshman year in college. "As a GRADE Camp mentor it kind of made me feel like I had a home in engineering," she said. "Seeing the campers understand engineering is really fun. It made me feel like I had a purpose here and gave me more drive to seek out where I fit in, if it’s not within a traditional engineering job."


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