'Get Into Energy' Camp Inspires Young Students

UMKC SCE faculty and students run hands-on experiments

The room was buzzing with activity. From their respective tables inside the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Computing and Engineering, eighth and ninth grade students laughed, shouted and tested their hypotheses. 

“Don’t leave gaps,” Bailey Smith, an eighth grader at Lincoln College Preparatory, said. She was helping a teammate as he carefully squeezed a thin line of conductive paint onto an outline.

The paint would act as a wire between two contact points. If all went well, their project would become a working circuit.

Their experiment was one of many conducted during the  Kansas City Power and Light's Get Into Energy Camp. The camp ran from June 20-22, and served 24 Kansas City, Mo.-area students. Driven by a need for more job-ready candidates in power and energy fields, KCP&L hoped to get young people excited about science and engineering.

If the students’ enthusiasm was any indication, the camp met its mark.

“It’s pretty cool,” Smith said, smiling as she worked on her experiment.

Smith had always thought she’d grow up to be a chef, but she’s starting to re-think that idea.

Now she’s considering engineering. Of course, this week, Smith had no shortage of role models in that arena. The camp was held in UMKC’s SCE, which allowed UMKC engineering students and faculty to interact with the participants.

Engineering faculty and students led the young participants through hands-on experiments that demonstrated magnetism, physics and electricity.

Daniel Leon-Salas, Ph.D., assistant professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at the  SCE, ran the conductive paint experiment. He could have delivered the information in a lecture, but doing so wouldn’t have made the same impact. It definitely wouldn’t have been “pretty cool.”

“If they can equate fun with engineering, they will enjoy learning, and they will be willing to learn more about engineering,” Leon-Salas said.

As he talked, Leon-Salas made his way to a table of eager students. They wanted to know if their paint was dry enough to test out. That level of engagement was exactly what Leon-Salas was hoping for.

“If you don’t capture their attention, they’ll get bored,” Leon-Salas said. “It should be fun, otherwise they will forget it. If they don’t have fun, they’ll forget the lesson."

Also supporting the camp was the KC STEM Alliance, an independent initiative based at UMKC with a mission of inspiring more students to pursue careers in STEM and build a robust workforce for the region.

“The sooner that students can find practical applications for their interests in math and science, the better off they’re going to be when it comes to their college and career goals. That’s our whole aim,” Laura Loyacono, director of the KC STEM Alliance, said.

A practical application for his love of science seemed to be exactly what Shauntez Johnson, an eighth grader at Frontier School of Excellence, was looking for. Johnson has always enjoyed science, but that passion became especially clear when he was paired with a UMKC engineering student to work on a snap circuit kit.

Johnson presented a hypothesis about the relative speed with which their small fan would spin when Cody Kaspzyk, a UMKC sophomore, flipped a switch. Johnson was correct.

“I like science,” Johnson said, over the excited chatter of his fellow students. “I’m thinking about becoming an engineer.”

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“If they can equate fun with engineering, they will enjoy learning, and they will be willing to learn more about engineering.”

Daniel Leon-Salas
Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering