Pandemic Doesn't Stop High School Engineering Summer Camp

By Jay Alexander, CTO at Keysight Technologies
Aug 18, 2020 12:30 PM ET

I get such a feeling of joy when I see a young person experience the magic of engineering. Thanks to my colleague Hamish Gray I recently had one of those moments that is worth sharing. To set some context, I'll say that Keysight's commitment to STEM education is longstanding and wide-ranging. At the university level, we provide products and solutions for undergraduate teaching labs and graduate research, financial and in-kind grants, certificate programs, internships, and much more, as described here. Some of our efforts are highly visible, for example our worldwide IoT Innovation Challenge and our partnership with MIT on quantum computing. Others are more low-key and are tuned to the needs of the communities where we operate, as part of our broad Corporate Social Responsibility program. This is particularly the case for our STEM efforts at the pre‑university level, of which there are many around the world, including here in Sonoma County, California.

This brings us to Sonoma State University and the recent source of joy. SSU has been a great provider of talent for Keysight and other local companies over the years. Several of our employees teach courses there, and others have delivered guest lectures on various topics. Our latest engagement began last summer, when SSU's electrical engineering department piloted their Engineering Summer Camp for area high school students. Hamish worked with the department chair, Dr. Farid Farahmand, to define the program and secure Keysight funding. The 5-day program ran for two successive weeks with two separate groups of students and worked out great! You can follow the links on the web page for more details but the happy faces in the picture above basically tell the story. (Farid is at far left.)

Given that success, the SSU team made plans to run it again this summer. The pandemic occurred, but they didn't let that defeat them. They wound up selecting one cohort of 12 students to participate for two straight weeks, and did everything remotely. Needless to say that made for some new challenges and in some cases the need to MacGyver novel solutions. The students first simulated a simple LED circuit and built it, then assembled and programmed a remote-controlled vehicle using Bluetooth, then programmed sensors on the vehicle using an Arduino, and finally built a smartphone app using Thunkable. That's a pretty good sequence of hands-on engineering and programming. A few photos below, all taken at the students' homes.

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Keysight 8-17 2

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Instead of having an in-person open house at the end of the program, the students delivered their closing reports via a Zoom meeting that Hamish invited me to attend. The new Dean of the School of Science and Technology, Elisabeth Wade, also joined in – that was great supportive leadership on her part. Here are a couple quotes from the students:

"I took this class because I wanted to get some electrical engineering experience and decide if it’s a career I might want to pursue in the future. I had a lot of fun during this experience and would definitely recommend this to other students" – Amelia, Age 15

"Building this car myself made me feel accomplished. I remember my dad came over and sat down with me and we had a good conversation when I was building the car." – Marco, Age 17

Seeing the students describe their experiences in such an honest and open-hearted way was really inspiring and uplifting for me. I told them that adapting to unexpected circumstances was part of the engineering problem-solving mindset and they had indeed prevailed in their efforts. The whole interaction drove home the positive impact the SSU program and others like it can have on young people. Thanks Farid and team for making it happen! And thanks to the students for providing the joy.