IMPaCT Scholarships Promote STEM Learning and Fun For Shelby County Students

Computer Project - Shelbyville

Finished Product: Michael Gardner (Right) of Needham, Indiana and his teammate Nick Caspers of Bloomington, Minnesota show off DoDger, a game the pair created during the second session of Operation Catapult. (Photo by Dale Long)

For 48 years, some of the most enterprising high school students from around the country, and the world, have spent three weeks of their summer break on the Rose-Hulman campus to immerse themselves in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), while also getting a valuable preview of college life.

Operation Catapult is an amazing opportunity for students to explore their passion for possible STEM fields, and start friendships with their like-minded peers. Students work on team projects with faculty mentors, attend demonstrations and lectures, participate in field trips to see first-hand the work being done by engineers and scientists, and experience living in a campus residence hall.

The Innovative Model: Positioning Communities for Transformation (IMPaCT), an economic development partnership between Rose-Hulman, Shelby County, and the City of Shelbyville, offered scholarships this year for students from Shelby County schools to share in the Operation Catapult experience. One student in each session was provided with the opportunity to attend the program, at no cost to their families, because of these scholarships. Katherine Branson, was the recipient of a scholarship to attend from June 15-July 2, will be a senior for the 2014-2015 school year at Shelbyville High School in Shelbyville, Indiana. Michael Gardner, who received a scholarship to attend from July 8-25, will be a senior for the 2014-2015 school year at Triton Central High School in Fairland, Indiana.

Michael Gardner

Exploring STEM: Michael Gardner of Needham, Indiana will be a senior for the 2014-2015 school year at Triton Central High School in Fairland, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Minnick)

Michael’s list of interests is pretty typical stuff for someone his age: playing golf, tennis, and video games. But in the same breath, he also mentions that his favorite subject in school is mathematics. For a young man with a passion for STEM and future plans for engineering, Operation Catapult was a perfect fit “I thought it would be a good way to get a feel for college life and what it would be like to come to Rose-Hulman,” he says. “I was also interested in the chance to participate in a lot of different science and engineering activities, and prepare for college.”

Operation Catapult students spend much of their time working on a STEM-related group project. These projects range from trying to create a mechanical device that allows a person to “walk” across a campus pond, creating biofuels, and embedding micro controllers into autonomously controlled model vehicles. The potential projects are presented at the beginning of the session to help the attendees determine where they would like to focus their energy over the course of the program.

Michael has had in interest in computer programing since dabbling with the C+ coding language in a class during his freshman year. This led him to team up with a student from Minnesota and start working with the Python language. “We used Python, a language that can be used in a lot of different ways, to create a simple action video game,” Gardner says. “In our game you control one character and the objective of the game is to dodge incoming projectiles as long as you possibly can.”

Michael came away from the Operation Catapult experience excited about a future in the STEM career field. “Operation Catapult has definitely given me an idea of what life on a small campus might be like, and what I will need before I come to college,” he says. Michael hopes return to campus and attend Rose-Hulman in 2015.

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