September 12, 2012

When the 160 students participating in this year’s Encounter Engineering camp arrived on campus, they would have never guessed how much fun they would have participating in a ropes challenge course or Rube Goldberg design competition, having math classes or learning that earning an engineering degree is comparable to a Swiss army knife.

From networking with major industry professionals to adjusting to the life and classes of a College of Engineering student, the Encounter Engineering camp, or E2, provides many benefits to incoming freshmen.

Encounter Engineering is one component of the NSF-funded STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP) grant. The goal of LSU’s STEP is to build a community between students, faculty, staff and industry aimed at increasing retention of students in the College of Engineering. STEP participants’ retention and graduation rates are 15 percent and 20 percent higher respectively than students who do not attend the camp.

“E2 is designed to provide activities that help freshmen smoothly transition from high school to college, help them determine strengths as a student, introduce strategies to be more effective at learning and teach them how to handle the new challenges of entering a large university,” said Warren Waggenspack, associate dean for academic programs, College of Engineering. “It also builds a sense of community between the students and the college through multiple opportunities to interact with faculty, peer mentors and staff members throughout the week.”

Students were placed in 38 groups of four with a current engineering student from the Society of Peer Mentors as their group leader. They participated in team-building activities within their groups and competed in a design competition to introduce them to college-level group work that prepares them for college classes and industry.  This year’s competition, a Rube Goldberg design that launched a mousetrap car, was sponsored by Albemarle Corporation.

“The camp helps you network by forming study groups and new friendships and finding a mentor to help you get through your academic career,” said Greg Anderson, a civil and environmental engineering senior and a peer mentor who worked at this year’s camp.

LSU faculty, who teach freshmen courses, provided academic-based sessions in physics, math and engineering design for students. Campers solved problems involving concepts that many incoming students have difficulty understanding and were assigned homework and tests.

“The camp offers incoming freshmen the rare opportunity to experience engineering classes in a fun and engaging way before it counts for a grade,” said Ryckur Schuttler, a petroleum engineering senior who attended the camp as a freshman and has worked as a peer mentor at the camp for the past three years. 

One of this year’s camp highlights was industry luncheon keynote speaker Kyle Prather from EA Sports. Each year, students are able to meet with professionals from each discipline at the industry luncheon. Prather explained the many opportunities that come with earning an engineering degree.

“LSU’s product is you. The reason you’re here is to develop and change and learn how to prepare for the industry. It is normal for an engineering degree to be hard, but the opportunities it affords will last forever,” Prather said.

He said that an engineering degree is like a Swiss army knife – though you graduate in one discipline, you can apply it and work in any field.

“Ask questions and be comfortable being uncomfortable. You are getting a degree as a problem solver,” Prather said. “You are a professional problem solver. You are a professional expert at becoming an expert. You are presented with complex problems that you solve for companies and for the public.”

Students also met with industry professionals from large companies including Chevron, Shell, ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical, BASF, and Baker-Hughes, who were on hand to answer students’ real-world questions. Other companies sending representatives were Environ, OxBow Calcining, HLP Engineering, Hudson Service, PreSonus Audio Electronics, ISC Constructors, TEI, Clement Controls, Air Products, Kinder Morgan, ILD and Entergy. Harold Lohmann, a recent construction management graduate who worked for 3 years for the STEP program, represented TOPCor Construction alongside many other engineering alumni who represented their companies.

Wayne Weicks, a mechanical engineering alum and production engineer at Shell, was one of the professional engineers at the luncheon. When asked about how to get an internship at Shell, Weicks said to keep up with grades, go to a career fair and network, don’t get discouraged and be yourself.

Trey Ledet, a recent construction management graduate who attended E2 as an incoming freshman, said that the camp changed his college experience and helped ease him into the rigorous course work he would face.

“Being from out of town, it was helpful to get accustomed to LSU and living on campus,” he said. “The classes that I attended at the camp prepared me for the academic curriculum I would face in college.”

For more information about the STEP Program, visit www.step.eng.lsu.edu/E2.htm

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Article written by Elise Bernard, communications intern. For more information, contact Cassie Arceneaux, College of Engineering, carcen6@lsu.edu or (225) 578-0092.     



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