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AUGUST 8, 2005 -- You don't have to go 600 miles to build a rocket, but for students in the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program, the journey north has been a blast.
"For a lot of the students, this trip to Michigan Tech is their first time outside an urban environment," said DAPCEP executive director Jason Lee. "A lot of them say, 'It's cool, I like it.'"
Michigan Tech is hosting about 50 Detroit area students, who are spending four weeks learning about engineering and building rockets. Their adventure is funded 100 percent by the National Science Foundation's Information Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program, or ITEST, which exposes seventh- and ninth-grade students to college life and career possibilities in science and engineering. The program is administered by DAPCEP, which provides all its programs free to students who participate.
"They may have excelled in math or science, but haven't made a commitment to careers in science or engineering," Lee said. "Now, many are motivated to pursue this as a career. It's a great program."
This year, over 70 percent of the DAPCEP students at Michigan Tech are Detroit city residents, and - 65 percent are female. A total of more than 250 DAPCEP students have attended four-week sessions at MTU during the last seven years, and this class is the largest ever.
The students are also experiencing a more laid-back lifestyle in a rural part of the state. "They are traveling 12 hours from home to an environment that's totally different," Lee notes. "Not only are they going to Michigan Tech to learn rocketry and aerospace engineering, they are also learning to live in a dorm and how to do their laundry with the coin-operated machines.
"A lot felt it was peaceful up there, and it was pretty," he added. The woods and water, not to mention the relative absence of traffic, were so appealing that some students were happy to come back to the Upper Peninsula after their mid-workshop break back home in southeast Michigan.
The DAPCEP students kicked off their stay at Michigan Tech with one of the university's Summer Youth Programs, Explorations in Engineering. "Every day, we'd have one or two classes exploring different kinds of engineering," said George Blake, a 15-year-old African American who is entering his junior year at North Farmington Hills High School. "We learned what different engineers do, what kind of money they make, what's involved in getting the degree . . . There were lots of hands-on activities that helped me understand the engineers and what their jobs are."
That has "definitely" helped Blake refine his career goals. "I think now I'd probably go into mechanical or civil engineering," he said. "Before, when people asked, I'd just say I wanted to be an engineer."
For the last three weeks, students have been focusing on aerospace engineering. "We're building rockets and setting them off at the end of each week," Blake said. "I like it a lot."
As for Houghton, Blake admits that the region could be more diverse. "But it's definitely a nice town," he said. "It's a lot slower that the suburbs or the city, where I'm from. And there's lots of nature--the beaches, the water."
Tech is at least as happy to have the DAPCEP students on campus as they are to be at Tech.
"We are really excited that they are here," said Peter Larsen (Educational Opportunity), coordinator of youth programs. "As they've progressed through the program, they've been building bigger and bigger rockets and doing more advanced launches.
"They've also spent a lot of time on rocketry math," he added. "They don't call it calculus, but that's what it is."
And for students like George Blake, it's launching them in the direction of their dreams.
"It's really helping me decide what to do with my life," he says. "I found out that rocket science isn't rocket science; it's not as hard as people say."
For more information on DAPCEP, go to http://www.dapcep.org . To learn about Michigan Tech's Summer Youth Programs, visit http://youthprograms.mtu.edu/ .