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SMC hosts 230 for STEM Camp

Southwestern Michigan College’s Aug. 7-9 STEM camps consisted of four workshops — one per letter for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — for 230 students entering grades 4-6 this fall. Campers converged on the Dowagiac campus from across Michiana.

“It’s a great age to tap into because of their excitement,” said SMC STEM Club advisor Andrew Dohm, who wrote the grant that the Bosch Community Fund awarded to fund the sessions.

Dohm, who has taught SMC physics and mathematics for 18 years, holds a mechanical engineering degree from Michigan Technological University and worked as a Chrysler Corp. production supervisor before committing to the classroom.

“Mathematics ties the others together,” Dohm said. “It is the language scientists and engineers use to solve problems. Math is a useful tool, not something to fear.”

STEM camp’s hands-on activities stress problem-solving, collaborative teamwork, critical thinking, communication and creativity. Students rotated from the William P.D. O’Leary Building chemistry lab, where they concocted colorful slime from baking soda, glue, contact solution, glitter and food coloring, to the Barbara Wood Building computer lab, where they also learned about 3D printing and drones.

Dohm assigned budding engineers to design a scaled-down version of Curiosity, a $2.5-billion, car-sized rover launched Nov. 26, 2011, to explore Gale Crater as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission.

NASA choreographed a perfectly-timed sequence to take advantage of a seven-minute window from the top of the thin atmosphere to the surface of the Red Planet in a descent braking from 13,000 mph.

 “Real engineers are faced with problems. They identify constraints and come up with a solution,” Dohm said. “They had to slow it down so it would land gently and not damage sophisticated electronics.”

His “astronauts” were marshmallows in plastic-cup capsules. Teams were tasked with building a lander to keep them cushioned inside when dropped from a meter above the table using a kit of tape, straws, mini-marshmallows, a cardboard square and folded index cards.

Randy Flory, information technology instructor, disassembled a computer, spread its guts across a table and removed the side from a second machine “so you can see how it all fits together when it’s running.”

Flory two years ago used a 3D printer to make a chess set. Each plastic piece took four hours. Flory also printed drone propeller guards. “They now have confectionary 3D printers that can print a chocolate fidget spinner. They are also printing concrete houses,” he said.

“Wonderful corporations like Bosch are willing to support STEM,” Dohm said, making the annual SMC camp free to all participants.