Kayden Xayavong helped build a model car and a model glider out of foam, cardboard and batteries at summer camp and he was eager to show how they worked Friday.
But he and his teammates at the Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK), had to take a science and engineering quiz first.
“I do not know how my mom came to know about this camp,” said Kayden, a fourth-grader from Athlos Leadership Academy in Brooklyn Park. “But now, I like it. I have made friends, too.”
The camp, being held in Twin Cities for the first time this summer, is an initiative by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) intended to improve the representation of underrepresented people, especially students of color, in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The three-week camp for more than 100 kids in grades 3 through 5 includes lessons in engineering vocabulary, history of the field and noted African-American engineers, hands-on workshops about remote-controlled machines, games and programming.
“I learned vocabulary used in building cars, airplanes and video games,” Kayden said.
The camp at Earle Brown Elementary runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each weekday, and NSBE collegiate members serve as mentors for the students. The organization has a goal of seeing 10,000 black engineers graduate annually by 2025.
SEEK tries to attract students to the subjects by exposing them to engineering concepts and ideas in a fun way, said NSBE spokeswoman Yvette Watson. Parents or caregivers are required to attend an orientation session before the start of the program and to help their children maintain attendance.
“It also helps to build proficiency in math and science, which will help them when they return to school in the fall, besides developing camaraderie among kids coming from different schools,” she said.
Since it began in Washington, D.C., in 2007, SEEK has expanded across the United States and has served more than 20,000 students in 30 different cities.
Most of the resources for the program are provided by sponsors and the camp is free for kids. The Twin Cities event is being sponsored by Cummins Inc., which designs, manufactures and distributes engines, filtration and power generation products.
In another classroom Friday, Kidus Dawit and his teammates impressed judges, most of them black engineers, with their Model-T car project, which explained the evolution of human transportation from walking to steam engines to cars.
“I now know that human travelers have come a long way from walking on their feet to using modern means of commute. And most of this has science behind it,” said Dawit, a fifth-grader from Andover Elementary.
Teens working with mentor Akhea Mitchell, a student at Clark Atlanta University, built a project called “Receiver of Time” envisioning a future city with a cafe, buildings, hospital, driverless cars and robots.
“These teens are fascinated by cars, planes, games and other engineering things,” Mitchell said. “It’s amazing to see them working long hours in making them.”
Mikias Getachew, one of the students from Centennial Elementary, put it this way: “We got a chance to know how a city would look like and how engineering plays an important role.”
But all that thinking was tiring, too. One student waiting to take a quiz grew restless, rolling on the floor, while some of his friends dozed off in chairs nearby.
Toward the end of the day, there was a competition of remote-controlled vehicles that the kids had built. Judges watched how well the youngsters handled the machines, most of them miniature cranes, while guiding them through a designated route. Along the way, they had to hit plastic bottles, and the more they hit, the better the marks.
And that exercise was a hit with the students.
“Watching the machines zoom past the bottles is fun,” said fifth-grader Raphael Johnson-Nixon. “I will build an original car one day in the future.”