POLY STUDENTS SAMPLE COLLEGE LIFE DURING SUMMER PROGRAM By Sujata Massey Charles Westgate wanted to offer students at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute a taste of college. So he created a summer learning program to interest them in advanced science and engineering. The result: miniature robots, solar-powered ovens and cars, and a journey on the Internet. For a month, 24 students from the public high school with a magnet curriculum for math, science and engineering have worked together in small teams to simulate university research groups. They talked with faculty lecturers from Hopkins, Morgan State, the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Maryland at Baltimore County and College Park, and visited labs at Hopkins. A weekly contest to make the best invention from a pile of parts and field trips to a solar energy plant and Westinghouse added excitement. "Before I began, I didn't know what engineering was, and I thought it was really hard," Shuchi Batra, a 10th-grader, said. "Now I know what it is all about." Batra and Alicia Reid worked on a small, plywood robot that will be powered by pulling on an electrical wire. All of the students designed their projects without explicit written instructions. "This is not like school at all," said Steven Rex, a 10th-grade student who hopes to become a genetic engineer. "When I get frustrated with my robot, I go to the other group that's working with solar cells, so it gives me a lot of different experiences." Participants in the Hopkins-directed pilot summer program were selected by Poly teachers, who aimed for a group of both sexes with varying abilities and interests. "Ultimately, we are trying to give them a glimpse of what could be ahead for them in terms of the interesting, creative work that is typical of good universities," said Dr. Westgate, the William B. Kouwenhoven Professor of electrical and computer engineering, and director of the project. The professor, who chaired the Committee for the 21st Century's strategic study group on on diversity, said a long-standing interest in encouraging underrepresented groups led him to accept a challenge from Westinghouse to develop the summer program. Additional funding from Baltimore Gas and Electric and Bell Atlantic supports the four-week pilot session that ends this week. Two Poly teachers, James Leitess and Dan Conrad, staff the classroom with help from three recent Poly graduates who are studying engineering or science. Dana Riley, Poly '93 and a sophomore in the School of Engineering, was interested in outreach work at the school and sought out Dr. Westgate when he heard about the proposed program. Poly graduates Dustin Green, who will enter the California Institute of Technology this fall, and Monefia Bailey, who is headed to Morgan State University, are the other student teachers. "This is about implanting initiative. [The students] need someone to ask them 'why?' From there, there's a spark," Riley said. Back at his alma mater, the students buzz around him with questions about physics and engineering. Riley offers advice on their projects, performs impromptu experiments and talks about college life. During a recent tour of Home-wood Academic Computing, Riley and Green put the 11th-graders on the Internet, where they met computer-users in Mexico and Spain within minutes. Some of the students want to open their own computer network accounts. "We unleashed a monster," Green joked. The students gave high marks to the program, despite minor griping about the Hopkins-provided lunches; they would eat pizza every day if it were possible, Dr. Westgate learned. "It's very informal, and we are getting to experiment with our own ideas," said Mary Grandea, an 11th-grader. "We are learning about solar energy, and how to use our ingenuity." The Poly faculty, too, find the program an exciting way to teach. "It's a wonderful ratio, and the kids get a lot more guidance," said Leitess, a physics teacher, who had to turn away late-comers interested in the program. "I have easily 48 students who would like to be here." Leitess found the students patient and hardworking: "You put as much material in front of them as possible, and they run with it." When the solar car's axles didn't rotate as planned, for instance, the students started over, some working beyond the confines of the school day to get things right. Dr. Westgate is pleased with the pilot, which he anticipates will be renewed next summer. "I think this program is important economically to the region, and to the university... making more visible the opportunities that Hopkins has," Dr. Westgate said. While only a few Poly alumni enter Hopkins as undergraduates each year, the professor hopes some may become graduate students or faculty. But these days, he simply enjoys watching the young people create. "Some of the students seemed amazingly more inventive than I'd anticipated," Dr. Westgate said. "There's an enormous talent in the Baltimore city schools, and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute reflects the very best."
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