Citadel Professor Teaches Summer Virtual Tour of Engineering

Brdge using edible material cropped
Bridge made from edible materials.

During the week of June 22-26, 2020, Dr. Dimitra Michalaka of The Citadel, taught a “Tour of Engineering” virtual summer camp organized by the South Carolina Governor’s School of Science and Mathematics (SCGSSM). In the past, this camp was held in-person. With the restrictions due to COVID-19, the camp was restructured to a completely online format. Sixteen rising 8th and 9th graders participated and learned what engineers do through lectures and hands-on work sessions. Activities featured the fields of civil engineering, transportation engineering, mechanical engineering, computer/software engineering, and sustainability.

The camp included lecture time and hands-on work sessions. Students worked on exercises like developing a protocol for safely returning to school, designing a classroom that allows social distancing, designing a bridge using Bridge Designer software, and building one bridge using office material and one with edible material. One student used lasagna and fondant and another spaghetti and cheese to create sturdy truss bridges.

Students were encouraged to think about the accessibility of their neighborhood streets by taking an inventory of what they currently look like and transforming them to complete streets (streets for all) using, a free, online tool.  

A student participating in the virtual camp had this to say about the complete streets assignment, “Civil engineers also design roads which I like, so I was excited when we got to map the roads in my neighborhood and create a scaled drawing of them….Most roads are not safe and don’t have sidewalks, bike lanes, or curb ramps. This can be unsafe to people who want to walk, ride a bike, or have a disability and can’t get up the curb. When I redesigned my road I added a sidewalk, bike lane, and curb ramp to improve safety. That is why this is one of them highlights of my week.”

Participants honed their engineering design skills with a challenge to design and build a safety collision device for an egg by only using pieces of paper (

“This was another project that we did at home. I really liked this project because it went along with what our guest speaker that day was talking about with car collisions,” a student remarked. “And it also allowed us to use house materials to protect a raw egg from a 3ft drop. Just like how people tested cars for protection!”

Students dropped their eggs from a height of 3 ft. and shared videos with the class.  Some students achieved heights of 5 ft. before their egg broke.

A final activity of the week was to work in groups and design a phone application to promote safe driving through school zones. Students learned what type of data is needed to design such an app and also learned about research at the University of Florida Transportation Institute that is studying the effectiveness of existing apps.

A special guest speaker from Volvo cars, Emanuele Giogli, introduced students to automotive engineering and more specifically manufacturing and metrology. He presented the state-of-the-art technology to ensure quality and dimensional control in manufacturing including Coordinate Measuring Machine, scanner, laser tracker, and cameras attached to robotic arms. In all activities, students used the engineering design process to brainstorm, build, and improve their ideas. The camp also included fun activities such as Kahoot quizzes, short videos about different careers in transportation, and final presentations from each of the students about their favorite activities.

Bridge using office supplies
Zoom call with participants
Complete Street Design using Streetmix
Bridge Design using Bridge Designer Software
App Design for Safe School Zones