Girls’ Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science (GAMES) is an annual week long camp at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, designed to give academically talented girls an opportunity to explore exciting engineering and scientific fields through demonstrations, classroom presentations, hands-on activities, and contacts with women in these technical fields. Read more on the GAMES homepage.
During the summers of 2009, 2010, and 2011, I coordinated the Structures Camp to introduce middle school and high school girls to structural engineering. I organized the full week of camp activities including courses, labs, projects, and team-building exercises. Each camp was highlighted by a final project that built upon concepts learned throughout camp courses. I oversaw the curriculum development, taught courses, and directed camp counselors to ensure a fun, safe, and positive experience for the girls.
Summer 2009 – emergency relief shelters
The biggest year of the structures camp welcomed nearly 100 6th and 7th grade girls to the University of Illinois for the week-long camp. We had courses on Physics, Chemistry & Materials, Blue Printing, and Structures and labs on Shape Memory Alloys and Green Construction.
For their final project camp project, teams built emergency relief shelters out of 6’ recyclable cardboard tubes, twine, duct tape, and waterproof fabric. The shelters had to fit the entire team, had to be waterproof, and had to withstand vertical and lateral forces. To test the structures we went to the University of Illinois Fire Department where we simulated rain, wind, and heavy forces.
Summer 2010 – Recyclable bridges
In 2010 we kept the theme of using recycled materials with a final project to design and build a six foot long bridge out of cardboard tubes and twine. The design project was a competition for which team could build the strongest bridge.
We partnered with the Mechanics and Materials testing lab to test the bridges to failure in the compression machine in the Talbot Engineering Lab at Illinois. The strongest bridges held over 1000 pounds!
Support courses and labs for this project included Structures, Physics, Engineering Design, and Blue Printing. I designed and taught the structural engineering course and computational activity in which the girls designed and analyzed bridges West Point Bridge Design Software.
summer 2011 – origami furniture
During my final year of involvement with the GAMES camp, I brought a more research-inspired activities to the camp program. My research group had recently been investigating connections between origami, optimization, and structural engineering, which served as the perfect inspiration for a camp theme. We had courses taught by PhD students on computer aided-design, topology optimization, and even biomechanics, with the goal of showing parallels between seemingly disparate disciplines.
The final project brought all of these concepts together. Using flat, lightweight pieces of cardboard, groups of students made sustainable furniture of their choice: chairs, tables, beds, etc.
In 2011, I worked with all of the course and lab instructors to develop the curriculum for the week. I designed and taught the course on engineering graphics and co-developed the computational structural analysis and topology optimization labs. We built a graphical user interface on top of finite element and optimization research codes in Matlab so the students could get acquainted with computation mechanics, a field that is not usually accessible to high-school aged students!
All materials for the computational mechanics activities including software, lesson plan, activities, and references are openly available for download here (zipped filed).
My three summers as a coordinator of the Structures GAMES camp were some of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life. I firmly believe that programs like these can really make a difference in a young child’s life and can open the doors to experiences and opportunities that they may otherwise have missed. I especially enjoyed working with kids from different academic, cultural, and social backgrounds. I worked hard to create a safe and open environment where all of the girls could dare to venture outside of their comfort zones, meet new people, and work in groups. Even if it took a couple of days at the beginning of camp, we always achieved an amazing sense of camaraderie and community, and the girls left the camp knowing that they could tackle any challenge that came their way!