Deep understanding: ECSU campers build submarines

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Johnathan Duncan, 13, lowers a Sea Perch remotely-operated vehicle into the pool at the R.L. Vaughan Center at Elizabeth City State University, Tuesday. Duncan is one of 21 seventh- and eighth-graders participating in the four-week National Transportation Institute at ECSU that wraps up this week.


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A group of middle school students watched in wide-eyed wonder Tuesday afternoon as miniature submarines they had assembled moved smoothly through the swimming pool at Elizabeth City State University.

“I am very interested in engineering so this is my favorite part of the camp,” said Madison Short, 13, of Elizabeth City, who is one of 21 seventh- and eighth-graders participating in the four-week National Summer Transportation Institute at ECSU.

The institute, now in its fourth and final week, is designed to introduce middle school students to careers in science, mathematics, engineering and technology as well as to the wide world of transportation — land, sea, air and space, according to Megan Griffin, one of the program’s mentors.

Griffin said Tuesday afternoon’s trip to the pool was exciting for students because it gave them a chance to see the results of a project they had been working on throughout the camp. The students worked in four small groups to put together a submarine.

“And they’ve been working on them every day during the four weeks,” said Griffin, a South Mills resident who attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Other mentors for the program include Latori Gregory, a business administration major at ECSU, and Alexander Phifer, an aviation management major at ECSU.

ECSU’s aviation program is obviously one direction some of the students might be drawn to, but the institute exposes to all facets of transportation and to a variety of STEM disciplines and careers.

Short said she was fascinated — and surprised — by the wiring for the submarines. She learned about the potential dangers of electricity in and around water, she said, explaining that one of the things they discussed a lot on the submarine project was that the device needed to be safe to operate in the pool.

Mechanical objects of all kinds hold a fascination for Short, who said she wants to be a mechanical engineer. She also said math is one of her favorite subjects.

A student at River Road Middle School, Short said the school’s principal told her about the institute and encouraged her to apply.

Milton Bond and Antonio Rook co-authored the grant that funds the institute. Bond is a coordinator with the N.C. Mathematics and Science Education Network and Rook is a professor of computer science at ECSU.

Both Bond and Rook are from northeastern North Carolina — Bond is a native of Bertie County and Rook hails from Hertford County — and they said one of the highlights of the program is connecting with middle-school students from the region.

Rook said ECSU’s program is the only one of its type in North Carolina that targets middle-school students, and last year was one of only 15 in the country. The institute serves 20-25 students a year and will continue as long as there is funding for it, Rook explained.

Students apply for admission to the institute. Once accepted, their costs are covered through the grant, which this year was $53,000. The program is funded through the federal Highway Administration and the N.C. Department of Transportation.

For student Drue Wolf, 12, of Elizabeth City, the hands-on activities have been the best part of the institute.

“I really liked the third week because we really started putting this thing together,” he said, referring to the team’s assembly of the submarine.

Wolf said he also has enjoyed learning about transportation careers and about the economics of transportation.

Chris Griffin, 13, who lives in Maryland but is spending the summer in Elizabeth City with his grandmother, said he has enjoyed learning how to work with different tools such as pliers, scissors and a soldering iron.

“I’m not really good at using tools so it’s a new experience,” said Griffin, who explained he is interested in computers and mechanical engineering.