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MSU hosts Women in Action, BATMEN camps

June 22, 2012

Comic book fans commonly divide their loyalties between two companies: Marvel, home of Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Hulk, and DC Comics, home of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. Matthew Wise, a teenage student from Flowood, prefers Marvel.

"It's got Iron Man," Wise said. "That's always good. I don't like DC that much."

But for one week, he said, he didn't mind wearing the Batman logo on his summer camp's T-shirt.

Become A Teen Mechanical ENgineer, or BATMEN, is one of two engineering camps Mississippi State University hosted last week, the other being Women In Action.

In addition to the time frame and subject matter, the camps share a target age group: young men (for BATMEN) and women (for WIA) enrolled in grades 7-9. Eric Heiselt, director of outreach and student programs at MSU's Bagley College of Engineering, said the camps have also have the same goals, but they have little else in common.

"Over the years we have found that these middle-level-age programs are best served as single-gender programs," Heiselt said. "The two programs are designed differently in order to appeal to the students. The goals of both programs are to introduce the fields of engineering, introduce and implement the engineering design process, and allow the faculty and researchers to interact with the students and develop mentoring relationships."

Heiselt said BATMEN is also a much newer program than WIA; where BATMEN Is only in its second year, the BCOE has hosted WIA for about six years. The Society of Women Engineers chapter at MSU created the program to encourage young women to investigate engineering as a career, he said.

"We want these young women to see engineering as a viable field of study. We live by the idea that as we make engineering meaningful and a field that will allow them to blend problem solving and use of their creativity, their interest will be increased," Heiselt said. "We are also very lucky to have so many of our female faculty, researchers and students in the College of Engineering who desire to encourage young women and become mentors and role models.  We have many past participants who have attributed their current enrollment to their experiences in our summer programs."

One of the WIA campers, Sara Grace Duncan from Starkville, said she found out about the camp through her mother, who works on campus. She said she likes the friends she has made at WIA, and she is glad to be changing preconceptions about engineering as a male-dominated profession.

"It's kind of cool to be one of those people that's different, saying that it's not just men that can do things like that," Duncan said. "I want to be an architect when I grow up. (Architects and engineers) have to use the same things, like math and science and building and (creativity). I just like building stuff, using my hands (and) making things."

Duncan said her favorite WIA project was a wind turbine, which activates a Christmas light using wind power. Wise said his favorite BATMEN project was a homopolar motor, a AA battery with wires on its positive end that bend down toward a magnet on the battery's negative end. When constructed correctly, the wire spins around the battery using the battery's electrical charge.

"That's hard, but it's fun to do," Wise said. "We learn how to do all these interesting projects. You can take them home, (and) you can meet people (at BATMEN)."

Heiselt said the tie between the BATMEN engineering camp and the DC super-hero is designed to attract young men to the engineering profession.

"We use the Batman because he has no (superpowers) and relies on his mind and problem solving abilities," Heiselt said. "Engineers are superheroes, because they make the world better by solving problems that affect all of us and make our lives better."

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