Students learn, test at engineering academy

Girls are working on their project.
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© Anthony Plascencia/VC Star
About two dozen Hueneme High School seniors tested the strength of the bridges they made out of dry pasta Friday as part of an intensive engineering class taught California State University, Channel Islands. © Anthony Plascencia/VC Star

Marcel Velasquez is a step closer to pursuing a dream.

The 15-year old Hueneme High School student decided against spending the summer playing video games or riding a skateboard. For the past three weeks, he and some 30 other students from Hueneme High School have been participating in the Engineering and Design Careers Pathway Academy at CSU Channel Islands in Camarillo.

“There’s a wide future you can have,” Velasquez said. “You hear people say all the time ‘You can do it,’ but this program makes it possible,” he said.

The academy is a collaborative project sponsored by the Ventura County Office of Education, CSUCI, California Lutheran University, UC Santa Barbara, the Ventura County Community College District and the Ventura County Regional P-16 Council, among others. There is no cost to the students, but Duarte estimates the cost is roughly $1,500 per person, paid for by grants from the sponsors.

“We’re a collaborative effort of business, education and community leaders who provide support to prepare students for college and careers,” said Richard Duarte, vice chairman of the council and former superintendent of the Oxnard Elementary School District. “The goal is to move kids toward brighter futures,” he said.

The academy course is three weeks long. Classes are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. During the course, students absorb a curriculum provided by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland that is similar to what freshman engineering students take, said Dr. Jerry Clifford, a physics lecturer at CSUCI.

“The kids develop skill sets in attacking problems and finding solutions,” Clifford said. “It’s a lot of work and a very strong skills program,” he said.

Students worked out problems that included measuring the height of the campus clock tower and launching rockets after using a computer program to determine how high they would go.

For their last project, students built bridges using only pasta and glue. They used weights to test the bridges’ strength. The winning bridge builders were Pahola Chavez, 16; Jesus Mondragon, 16; and Liliana Renteria, 16 whose bridge held 18 filled, plastic water bottles.

“It’s a very intensive program,” said Bob Kadin, a math, business and computer programming teacher at Hueneme High School who taught in the academy program this year. “You look at the bridges and you think it’s fun and games, but those bridges have been tested and retested for tensile strength and compression strength,” he said.

“It helped me really decide what I want to do,” said Patricia Atanacio, 15, a student at Hueneme High School who’s interested in environmental engineering. “It’s an opportunity to expand what I want and learn how to get it,” she said.

The program is a great opportunity, considering the tough budget problems schools are facing, said Oscar Hernandez, Hueneme High principal.

“When you consider it’s a Johns Hopkins curriculum, it’s opening up a lot of doors to these kids, many of whom will be the first generation to go to college in their families,” he said.

Octavio Leon, 16, said he loved doing all the different projects the course offered. “It taught me that if you do something you love and go after it, you’ll get paid well and you won’t quit because it’s something you dreamed about,” he said.

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