Summer bioengineering camp challenges high school students
The engineering field is home to many specialties and disciplines. And now bioengineering, a new division, is breaking ground in Wichita State University’s engineering department.
Charity Kennedy, assistant director of engineering education, is the creator of "Body Works: The Body as a Machine," a bioengineering camp that promotes the new program to high school students.
“Bioengineering is really cool,” said nursing major and camp counselor Aimee Callison.
To Callison, camps like Body Works stress education, and “education is what’s going to get them a bright future,” she said.
Camp activities were centered within the three concentrations included in WSU’s bioengineering program: medical devices, lifestyle engineering and bioenergy. Campers heard lectures and participated in activities designed to show them how bioengineering works.
The students began the week learning about joint replacement, composite materials and laparoscopic surgery. High school bioengineering teacher Leah Kasten taught the course focusing on joint replacement and creating new materials to make the process better and easier.
Larry Whitman, associate professor and director of engineering education, taught the students about laparoscopic surgery. The students were given tools to complete a task and were then challenged to create better tools.
According to Kasten, the point of these exercises is to make students think outside the box in order to discover how to make better parts for the body.
Kennedy wanted the activities to help students realize that “there are a lot of ways to be in the medical field” without becoming a doctor.
During the second day, campers participated in a race across campus in wheelchairs on a scavenger hunt. What might sound fun and exciting turned out to be a difficult challenge.
Grady Landrum, director of disability services, instructed the students about wheelchair safety and use, and cautioned them about how hard it was to maneuver the chair without properly developed muscles and coordination.
“It was hard,” said camper Allison Bauer. “It hurt my hands more than anything.”
Kennedy hoped the students would become “more aware of handicapped accessibility and those who are handicapped.” Sometimes you have to go way out of the way to use handicapped accessible doors, elevators and ramps, she said.
“They need to realize that people with disabilities are a population,” she said. “Devices need to be designed, and that’s a career possibility.”
Before creating the camp, Kennedy attended the traveling exhibit "Our Body: The Universe Within" while it was showing in Oklahoma City, and was “completely blown away.”
The exhibit, now showing at Wichita's Exploration Place science center, displays human bodies inside and out with revealing examples of the musculoskeletal structure, circulatory and respiratory systems, the digestive track and an in-depth look into the brain.
Camp counselor Shiva Naidu, majoring in human factors and ergonomics, considers the exhibit better than a classroom setting.
“It’s one thing to look at a diagram,” he said. “It’s another thing to actually see it.”
Camper Rachel Evans agreed, saying the exhibit allowed her to put the vision of what she thought the body was to what it is in reality.
Kennedy wanted the exhibit to tie into the knowledge and information students already had, and she hopes “it will help kids realize how important taking care of their own body is.”
This camp was focused more on medical devices and lifestyle engineering than bioenergy, but students did learn about biofuels and renewable energy from Greg Krissik, president of ICM, a private company that builds ethanol plants across the country.
Kennedy hopes to have a camp based solely on bioenergy next year.
Campers heard from many teachers and guest lecturers, but a large portion of their learning can be credited to their counselors.
“I have excellent counselors,” Kennedy said. And, she said, counselors make or break a camp.
Further camp activities included constructing a ball-and-socket or hinge joint, making a model of a diaphragm and lungs, and a Rube Goldberg experiment in which students made a ball-throwing arm out of household items.
Kennedy hopes that students take with them the importance of college and education, and realize that they “don’t have to be a geek to be an engineer.”