By Angela Zhu
Hello everyone! I hope you all have had a great summer break so far. In this article, I will be sharing my summer experience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Canadian and American universities usually offer summer programs that enrich students’ life experiences by encouraging them to take college-level courses or various career exploration opportunities. These programs vary in content, focus and time. Some of them also have specific target groups that are usually underrepresented in numerous fields. As a reference, if you identify as a student of colour, here is my previous article which provides a list of summer programs dedicated to inspiring this student group.
Let’s dive into the Explore Engineering Innovation (EEI) program that I participated in! This program, hosted by Johns Hopkins University, is a college-level introductory course that helps future engineering students explore whether they are suitable for engineering and what fields they might be interested in. The program lasts for 3 weeks, and if you successfully complete the course, you will receive 3 college credits. Under this condition, you can also choose to receive a letter grade (A to F) or Pass/Fail grade. If you are an international student, you may want to apply for an F-1 visa in order to receive credits for this program.
EEI welcome kit
Now let’s focus on the weekly content and my personal experience in this program! Hope you enjoy this virtual summer experience.
Because of the COVID-19 situation in Baltimore, I chose to participate as a commuter student and rented an air-BnB near the JHU campus. The course lasts through the month of July on weekdays, and residential students have various entertainment opportunities or visits on weekends.
This course was more rigorous than I thought! Instructors gave us in-class assignments on the first day of school, which was to design a mouse trap using only rubber bands, tapes and paper. As a student who didn’t have any previous experience in designing a product on my own, I luckily dug out my talent in performing hands-on work. I also got to know a lot of friends during the design process as we helped each other and shared some ideas. Below is my final product:
After designing the mousetrap, we were also asked to write clear instructions, allowing other people to reconstruct the product and test if it was effective or not. Step-by-step instructions facilitate the engineering process and eliminate possible mistakes when constructing the product.
During the same week, we were also introduced to chemical engineering and performed labs on chemical processes such as the conversion of starch to sugar. We also had the opportunity to write a complete lab report and calculate the conversion efficiency on our own.
Alongside solid engineering knowledge, tools are also important when there is a need to sort out data. The course also contains an introduction to Excel and Unit Analysis. The instructors provided us with sufficient situations to practice the technical skills we learned, making sure that we familiarized ourselves with the content.
The second week began with Electronics, including the use of the hardware CPX and basic coding principles. We got to know different parts of the CPX (temperature sensor, LED lights, accelerometers, etc.) and learned to code our own devices.
The CPX device
The course also started to focus more on collaboration. We were separated into random groups and asked to code a modified Simon Game. The deadline was just one day away and we efficiently learned how to assign tasks to each individual and utilize the talents of each teammate. As a beginner coder, I took the task of recording the brainstorming process, devising pseudocodes and writing the user guide, while my two other teammates focused more on the creativity and functionality of the game.
At the end of the group project, I gained more confidence and coding knowledge as I then successfully completed my individual electronics project, which was to design a product that would encourage users to live healthier lives.
We were also trained in communication skills. On Wednesday, all students participated in a career fair and met engineers from various companies. As the culminating project of the week, every group gave their own presentations on self-invented products, with the structure of a business proposal. A good engineer not only needs foundational STEM knowledge, but also a concise communication style that can explain complicated concepts clearly to the public.
Week 3 started with the introduction to the culminating project of the program: we were to form groups of three or four, and use spaghetti pieces to build a bridge that could withstand a certain amount of weight. To prepare for this, we were taught various concepts in Materials Engineering: Young’s Modulus of different materials, area moments of inertia, ultimate tensile strength, maximum buckling/bending load, etc.
After two days of lectures, we performed three different labs to test the maximum tensile, bending and compressive strength of spaghetti pieces of a certain brand, collecting data for Young’s Modulus (depicting the material’s ability to be stretched or compressed, so basically its stiffness) and area moments of inertia (how mass is distributed in an object with regards to an axis). After each of the three labs, a complete lab report was to be composed, and each became increasingly complicated in order to hone our scientific writing skills.
Preparing samples before the lab
During these sessions, we were also able to calculate errors and uncertainties based on specific equations that would apply to different situations.
On Friday, we went through our second to the last lecture of the course: Engineering Ethics. Surprisingly, ethics is a crucial part of product design and nearly every engineering project that we see around us. The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) proposed a set of fundamental canons that all engineers should follow, regulating their conduct and professional services. If you are interested in this topic, feel free to navigate to this website and read each of the six canons.
We ended up writing an argument for a topic of our choice. I personally focused on the application of Artificial Intelligence in the medical system.
Little did we know, apart from the already-stressful projects and assignments, a bigger challenge was ready to welcome us…
Some cute Hopkins Blue Jays
This was the final week of the program. Our last lecture was on statics, which is an important topic for the balance of forces in the general structure of a bridge. We had the whole week to design the truss of the bridge, analyze the maximum load and force, and build the 3D bridge from spaghetti pieces and epoxy.
If you also plan to engage in some similar activities, I will give in a hint here: the bridge with a more “archy” structure is more likely to hold a heavier load. The reason for that is for you to find out, of course!
Here are some pictures I took during the building process:
Finally, the last day came. The Bridge Breaking Ceremony required each group to come onto the stage, settle their bridge, and pass the 3-kg line. If we did pass, more weight would continually be added until the bridge broke. Then, the group whose bridge held the maximum weight won!
Our final design
Here is the full article about the 2022 ceremony in JHU’s journal.
Our group, the Bridge-erton Baddies, passed the 8-kg line! This surpassed my expectations and was a huge encouragement to me on my path to pursue engineering.
This whole experience ended at last, but a new journey had just begun. There are countless programs hosted by a variety of universities that help high school students find their passion and career path. I encourage you all to explore these opportunities and apply for some next summer!
The moment our bridge failed… such a fun experience!
Wishing you all a brighter future!
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