The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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College Stages Third Annual Summer Engineering Institute for High School Students

SENGI Students

SENGI 2015

From July 12 through 24, the College of Engineering held its third annual Summer ENGineering Institute (SENGI), this year running well-planned science and engineering learning activities for 43 high school students from around New England and beyond. The director of SENGI was Paula Rees, who is also the director of the Diversity Programs Office at the college.

SENGI is a multi-faceted program that allows young students to explore how engineers envision creative, practical solutions that benefit the everyday lives of people and the communities where they live. The students were exposed to numerous and varied topics and the application of science and engineering principles in chemical, civil, electrical, environmental, and mechanical engineering. These disciplines were examined through faculty presentations, guided discovery, and hands-on design activities.

Practicing professional and research engineers, most of whom are faculty members, led projects, tours, and classroom activities with the assistance of current undergraduate engineering students. SENGI students also went on field trips and tours geared toward technical learning, team building, and enrichment activities. In addition, the SENGI students engaged in sophisticated group research projects and presentations.

The SENGI activities were led by 14 engineering faculty, more than four engineering graduate students, and seven engineering undergraduate mentors.

One major focus of the 12-day summer learning institute was a group project, with all the SENGI students dividing into teams that each performed one of three major projects.

As the SENGI syllabus described these cutting-edge projects to the students: “Over the next two weeks you will work as part of a team to complete one of three engineering projects. While you will all be exposed to elements of each project through workshops, lectures, and hands-on activities, the project will challenge you to delve much deeper into a particular area of engineering. In addition to completing your project, each team will be asked to present how it would apply the knowledge and experience gained to solve a new problem…On the last day of the Institute, all teams will present their projects and their application ideas. Our goal is for you to have fun while learning a lot about what it is to be an engineer.”

One project, designed by Professor Chaitra Gopalappa of the Mechanical and Engineering Department, was called Simulation Modeling for Disease Prevention and Control.

“Have you ever played a zombie game, where your mission is to save the human race by destroying zombies and preventing infections that turn humans into zombies?” as the SENGI students’ course description explained. “Your project is to build a similar computer simulation model and tackle real-life diseases…Simulation modeling is mimicking the complex ‘world out of balance’ on a computer to understand how diseases spread and what we can do to prevent them. Simulation modeling is one of the key tools industrial engineers have used to solve global issues in not only public health, but other areas such as disaster management, improving efficiency in hospitals, and scheduling issues in multiple global industries.”

Professor Sarah Perry of the Chemical Engineering Department designed a project about Microfluidics Methods for Cell Sorting. As the SENGI students learned, studies in biology and medicine often require the isolation of different types of cells from a complex mixture such as blood or tissue. Traditionally, identification of cells was performed using highly specific interactions between an antibody and a characteristic receptor present on the surface of the cells of interest. However, these strategies suffer from a variety of drawbacks.

“An alternative method for cell sorting would be to rely on a physical characteristic such as size or shape,” explains the project description. “This type of an approach is extremely relevant for purification of cells from blood, due to the differences in size between red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and other circulating cells, which can include metastatic tumor cells.”

Professor David McLaughlin of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department designed a project for building model Robotic Smart Cars. Over the last decade there has been an explosion of open-source physical computing platforms based on a simple microcontroller boards such as Arduinos and development environments, such as IDE, for writing software for the boards. These tools can be used to make mini-computers that, when paired with low-cost technology, can sense and control more of the physical world than a laptop.

As the project description reads, “For your project, you will seek to build the electrical, mechanical, and computational interfaces necessary to transform a remote control car into a robotic smart car, capable of avoiding obstacles in real-time just like a Google car.”

The undergraduate mentors for the SENGI summer camp were Eric Rice, Jose LaSalle, Prince Korang, Spencer Kresge, Olivia Bergemann, Wayne Farrell, and Alex Finestone. The Grad students were Cole Fitzpatrick, Craig Schneider, Mark Price, Akshaya Shanmugam, and others.

For more information about summer pre-college activities at UMass Amherst, visit the UMass Amherst Summer Pre-College website.

(August 2015)