Students Get Taste of Aerospace During Summer Camps


Seventy-nine high school and middle school students from across the country and internationally got a taste of aerospace engineering this summer during camps Aerospace at Illinois either hosted or helped operate.

Participants with their rockets.
Participants with their rockets.
For 21 years the Department has presented the Illinois Aerospace Institute, a week-long outreach program that drew 40 high schoolers to campus in July and had a waiting list of another 25 to 30 students. Other than the World Youth in Science and Engineering program, the Institute, open to both boys and girls, is the longest-operating program of its kind in the College of Engineering, according to organizer Diane Jeffers.

Another 20 high school girls participated in aerospace engineering projects through G.A.M.E.S (Girls Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science), coordinated through the Engineering at Illinois Women in Engineering Program. And 29 fifth through seventh grade girls were introduced to the AE at Illinois department through GIRRRLS Exploring Science and Engineering Summer Camp, sponsored by the Campus Middle School for Girls in Urbana, Illinois.

Preparing for rocket launch.
Preparing for rocket launch.

Originally the brainchild of AE Emeritus Associate Prof. Kenneth R. Sivier, the Illinois Aerospace Institute offered campers instruction on these topics:
•    Introduction to aeronautics and astronautics
•    Aerospace materials and structures
•    An introduction to and workshop for model rocket design
•    Rocket propulsion
•    Flight mechanics
•    Feedback control and robotics
•    Aerodynamics
•    Wind tunnel laboratory
•    Radio-controlled model flying demonstrations (courtesy of the Champaign County Radio Control Club)
•    Controls activity
•    Careers in aerospace engineering
•    Obits and missions
•    Space robot teleoperation
•    Aeronautics and astronautics design

In addition, the campers toured the Institute of Aviation at Willard Airport which included flights with university pilots, and, with the help of the Central Illinois Aerospace rocket club, participated in a glider/rocket fly-off on the camp’s last full day. Institute campers were charged $750 for the week’s room and board, and stayed at the Illinois Street Residence Hall on campus.

The experience “allows students who have an interest in engineering and particularly aerospace engineering to meet other kids their own age who have similar interests,” Jeffers said. “It helps them further define the direction they want to go.”

Although some of the campers over the years have chosen Aerospace at Illinois or other Engineering at Illinois departments for their college careers, outreach is the Institute’s main purpose, Jeffers maintained. “We like that they go to college and major in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.”

Accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis, Institute campers must be “A” or “B” students, excel in science and math; have a recommendation from their science or math teachers, and interact well with peers.

This past summer, AE at Illinois faculty members Philippe Geubelle and Timothy Bretl, as well as Mechanical Science and Engineering Lecturer Richard Keane, provided instruction, with the help of several AE graduate and undergraduate students. Said Jeffers, “This provides teaching experience to our students – particularly our grad students – who are interested in being instructors.”

Instructor with participants
Instructor with participants
AE Associate Prof. Joanna Austin, Dr. Brian Woodard and Diane Jeffers coordinated the AE portion of the G.A.M.E.S camp, which offered many of the same topics as the Institute, including a glider/rocket fly-off on the last day. In addition to aerospace, other disciplines that the G.A.M.E.S campers experienced were robotics, bioengineering, chemical engineering, environmental engineering, electrical engineering and materials science.

Jeffers coordinated the aerospace lessons for the 5-day GIRRRLS day camp, working with Austin and AE student presenters. The middle school girls learned about computer engineering, computer science, materials and environmental engineering in addition to aerospace engineering.