Everyone was eager to visit the wind tunnel in the basement of Krieger Hall to learn about aerodynamics and investigate thrust and momentum by racing water-bottle “cars” in the mechanical engineering senior design space in Wyman.
10 high school-aged students visited Johns Hopkins’ Homewood campus last week as part of an engineering summer camp. In addition to getting their hands on some engineering demonstrations, the students were excited about the prospect of buying and eating lunch at Levering Café.
“Do they have pizza? Please say I can have pizza!” one student pleaded. “It’s so cool that we get to have lunch at a real college dining hall.”
The students were participants in a new Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) summer program aimed at helping blind youth explore careers that are generally assumed to be inaccessible or too challenging.
“Throughout the year, we provide training in blindness skills, such as braille, technology, cane travel, cooking, and more, but this is the first time we have put the focus on career exploration for youth as a summer camp experience,” said Anica Zlotescu, BISM manager of training and accessibility.
Zlotescu and Juhi Narula, BISM youth transitions manager, worked with Stephen Belkoff, associate research professor in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, to create the experience after the two organization’s success working together on a project for a mechanical engineering senior design project that promises to help BISM associates manufacture their own navigational white canes.
“Our goal for the day was to give the students a variety of hands-on engineering experiences to get them thinking about college and about engineering and ignite their interest in STEM,” said Belkoff, who partnered on the day with Steven Marra, associate teaching professor in mechanical engineering.
During their visit, the students not only learned about induced lift by sticking their hands (and an airfoil) into air rushing through the wind tunnel at 35 mph, but also were introduced to the concepts of heat transfer, convection, conduction, and radiation. They rode a stationary bicycle rigged to an elevator governor to learn about and experience how that device regulates the speed of a pulley system.
The day ended with the students breaking into teams to race water-bottle cars down the senior design lab hallway: an activity involving a plastic liter bottle, water, and pressurized air that introduced them to the fundamentals of Newton’s Second Law of Motion. Each two-person team had to decide which water-to-pressurized air ratio would propel their device the farthest.
Team members Briasia and Alanis had the winning formula: 75% water to 25% air. It propelled their car more than 60 feet down the hallways for the win.
“Engineering seems cool, but I am not sure I’m interested in it as a career,” Briasia said. “But it still feels pretty good to win.”
BISM camp supervisors considered the day a big success.
“Sadly, blind youth are not always given the same opportunities as their sighted peers to get that essential hands-on experience vital to figuring out their career goals. We at BISM know this is an important piece to the puzzle that is their future. We work to make sure these opportunities are available to them promoting the philosophy that blindness should never be the reason they cannot explore a career of their interest,” Narula said.