For the past two weeks, Pajaro Valley Unified District (PVUSD) students have been hard at work designing and creating inside of the old woodshop building at E.A. Hall Middle School.
PVUSD’s summer Boys and Girls In Engineering camps, led by Cabrillo College instructor Rhoxanne Morris Vaughn, aim to encourage, motivate and enlighten students about the benefits and rewards of engineering.
“When you ask the average person what engineering is, they think of robots,” Vaughn said. “But engineering is so much more. It’s not just robots. It’s about solving problems.”
Last week, boys from middle schools throughout the district converged at E.A. Hall for five days of project building, experiments and workshops. This week, it was the girls’ turn.
“Especially for girls, this is about teaching them to be assertive, that everyone has a voice and can add their input,” Vaughn said. “In this age group, in general, boys will often take charge, sort of take over when working in a group. But in this setting, there’s none of that. The girls have to step up.”
The camps touched on various fields of engineering, including chemical, mechanical, biomechanical and manufacturing. Students created everything from marshmallow launchers to structures that can sustain earthquakes.
On Wednesday, the girls began their day by collecting supplies to construct packaging that could protect a raw egg when dropped from the building’s second level.
Adriana Rocha, who will enter eighth grade in the fall, said she thinks the camp will help her in the future.
“When I grow up, I want to design buildings,” she said. “I feel like this is a good camp for me. It will help me understand more that I can use when I’m older.”
Middle school, Vaughn said, is an important time for student development, which is why programs like these are important.
“Data has proven that middle school is a formative time,” she said. “That’s when your compass can change directions. It’s a powerhouse three years that can define you. This is the age where you can see things changing drastically.”
Vaughn credited Cabrillo Engineering Department chair and instructor Jo-Ann Panzardi for creating the camps, which had been held throughout the years prior to Covid. They are funded through PVUSD’s Migrant Education program.
“Jo-Ann was the person who brought it together, it’s her brainchild,” Vaughn said. “And I run the camp with my team. I really believe in this. Just to see students come out of their shell … It’s amazing how much they grow in one week. It’s a really inspiring job that I love to do.”
Vaughn’s team is made up of hand-picked teaching assistants (TAs) from Cabrillo College’s Engineering Department. A number of them are volunteers.
“Everybody on my team I chose because they’re helpful and intuitive,” Vaughn said, “and it’s these attributes I want to instill in the girls. It really takes a team to make this happen. It’s not a solo endeavor. I feel very blessed with my team. I couldn’t do what I do without them.”
TA Olivia Ervin will be transferring to Cal Poly next semester to study environmental engineering.
“It’s so fun to see how young people think,” Ervin said. “Their minds come up with these crazy ideas that I wouldn’t even think of. It’s really interesting to see, and a great opportunity for all of them.”
Seventh-grader Esperanza Reyes Garcia, whose older sister had attended the camp the previous year, said it has been an interesting and fun experience.
“Having different groups and partners, and these wonderful teachers who are really nice and helpful,” Garcia said. “It’s definitely been a new experience for me, but it’s been really great.”