CVTC Camp Offers Education on a Fast Track
Students participate in STEM Race Camp
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Fall Creek High School student Karson Dimmitt, right, and Scott Van Ert of Altoona make adjustments to their team’s car during trial runs at CVTC’s STEM Race Camp June 29. Looking on are Cody Steimetz, left and Alex Picco, both of Eau Claire.
The radio-controlled car spun out of control during a test run the day before the final competition races at Chippewa Valley Technical College’s STEM Race Camp June 29. But team member Karson Dimmitt, 15, was still confident about his team’s prospects.
“I think we’re going to win. We have a fast car,” said Karson. “If we don’t destroy it first.” Karson attended the camp with his brother, Nolan, 14. Both boys are from Osseo and attend Fall Creek High School.
The brothers weren’t just playing with cars at the four-day camp at CVTC’s Manufacturing Education Center. They were learning principles of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – what educators call STEM fields – and applying them to scale model RC cars. They learned, for example, why adding some weight to the car with small metal washers and selecting a different kind of tire could cut down on the skids.
“They’re getting a good chance to take some of the skills they learn in the science classroom and apply them to something fun,” said Erik Phelps, an instructor at the camp and a science teacher at Eau Claire Memorial High School. “This is a good anchor activity.”
“We heard about this at school from our tech-ed teacher,” said Nolan. “I really like RC cars and wanted to know what I could do to switch things on it to make it go faster.”
“I have one of my own, but it’s not as fast as these,” said Karson. “I wanted to learn about the mechanics.”
Also attending was Preston Sima, a student at Augusta High School, who was back for his second year. “My team won first place last year,” he said.
The team members take turns controlling the car, but eventually settle on a main driver. Although everyone wants to make their cars faster, they soon learn that keeping it under control is critical. Both driver and car factors are involved in that.
“You learn what causes the drift on a corner and how to deal with it,” Sima said.
“We’re learning about tires and traction,” Karson said. “You learn by process of elimination and scientific method.”
Alternative energy enters the picture at the camp, too. The car batteries are normally charged with an electric outlet, but the teams are challenged to recharge “off the grid” with solar and wind power charging stations. They even experiment with cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Of course, the boys may be focused more on the fun.
“They are more interested in the racing,” Phelps said. “But today we did a good job of quantifying it all. Why is it faster? How can you make it go faster? They’re thinking about it more scientifically.”
The hope is that such experiences will lead more young people to choose careers in STEM-related fields.
“There’s a national shortage of people going into STEM-related fields, and a lot of STEM jobs are in manufacturing,” said Jeff Sullivan, dean of manufacturing at CVTC. “We want to stimulate interest in these fields among young people who may not realize how exciting and challenging STEM careers can be.”
Karson said he’s interested in a career in engineering. Sima would like to become a welder.
The camp, which also included tours of CVTC’s Manufacturing Education Center and Energy Education Center, wrapped up with final races on Thursday, June 30 with teams competing for the checkered flag. Sima’s and Nolan Dimmitt’s Red Team took second place in the races.
The instructors are hoping the world will be the ultimate winner.
“Our generation is relying on them to take the skills they are learning here and make the world better,” Phelps said.