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Parks College Hosts First-Ever Virtual Summer Academy

Chris Moore, rising high school senior from Radcliff, KY, works on his robot at his home during camp week.

Chris Moore, rising high school senior from Radcliff, KY, works on his robot at his home during camp week.

As the Covid-19 Pandemic altered most facets of study and work at Parks College, one of the most noticeable impacts this summer has been on the camps that the college hosts annually.  As in-person events were not possible for safety and logistics reasons, one summer experience, the Robotics Summer Academy, was able to successfully move the camp experience virtual.  

The Robotics Summer Academy is led each summer by faculty in the Computer, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering programs at Parks.  Throughout the course of a week, high school-aged campers design, build and code their own personal Arduino robot, which they keep after the camp concludes.  In previous years, the experience was a day-camp on SLU’s campus, which meant participants lived in St. Louis and traveled home each evening.  As the camp moved online in June, however, the college was able to offer the experience to students out of state as well.  

In all, 22 students participated in the Virtual Robotics Academy from June 15-19th.  Most campers were from the St. Louis area, but there were also students participating from Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.  Ahead of the camp start date, campers were mailed robot kits--all of the components they would need throughout the week--and set up their at-home work stations.  During the Academy week, campers logged into a virtual Zoom classroom to participate, which allowed interactive learning and real-time conversations. 

Chris Moore, a rising high school senior from Louisville, KY shared some of his perspectives on attending a virtual summer camp: “It was definitely challenging, especially because we were not together in a classroom.  However, the coordinators miraculously made it work.  I mostly enjoyed learning new things from an online perspective.  Usually, I learn everything in a classroom, but this experience proves that you can still learn, overcome, and make do in learning a new topic while online.”

Dr. Kyle Mitchell, Dr. Will Ebel and Dr. Mike Swartwout led most of the learning modules for the week, covering topics ranging from mechanics, to introduction to electronics, to calibration and testing.  As the camp progressed, campers built and coded their personal robots along with the learning modules.  The camp also included virtual games and ice breakers for the campers to get to know each other each morning, guest speakers from industry and within the engineering programs at Parks College, and group presentations.  

Of the experience, Dr. Mitchell said “we were pleased with the interest from students in attending a virtual camp.  As this was the first time we’d taken an in-person camp online, the experience presented new challenges. The fact that the camp has always been designed with the intent that students would take their robots and new knowledge home and continue to experiment with different development activities helped in planning for these challenges. We were really encouraged by the enthusiasm the students showed throughout the week and in the end it was very much worth it. We really enjoyed getting to know students within and beyond the St. Louis area, and showing them our Electrical, Computer and Mechanical Engineering programs."

During the camp closing ceremony on Friday, campers’ family and friends were invited to log onto the Zoom session for presentations and for campers to demonstrate their robots.  

Dr. Mitchell added, “We are happy to have been able to offer a virtual summer camp experience to this great group of students, and to have each student successfully build a working robot without ever being in the same room together.  This was an experience both campers and faculty learned a great deal from, and a highlight of our summer."