Johns Hopkins Gazette: July 11, 1994

By Sujata Massey

Charles Westgate wanted to offer students at the Baltimore
Polytechnic Institute a taste of college. So he created a
summer learning program to interest them in advanced science
and engineering. The result: miniature robots, solar-powered
ovens and cars, and a journey on the Internet.
    For a month, 24 students from the public high school
with a magnet curriculum for math, science and engineering
have worked together in small teams to simulate university
research groups. They talked with faculty lecturers from
Hopkins, Morgan State, the U.S. Naval Academy and the
University of Maryland at Baltimore County and College Park,
and visited labs at Hopkins. A weekly contest to make the
best invention from a pile of parts and field trips to a
solar energy plant and Westinghouse added excitement.
    "Before I began, I didn't know what engineering was, and
I thought it was really hard," Shuchi Batra, a 10th-grader,
said. "Now I know what it is all about."
    Batra and Alicia Reid worked on a small, plywood robot
that will be powered by pulling on an electrical wire. All of
the students designed their projects without explicit written
    "This is not like school at all," said Steven Rex, a
10th-grade student who hopes to become a genetic engineer.
"When I get frustrated with my robot, I go to the other group
that's working with solar cells, so it gives me a lot of
different experiences."
    Participants in the Hopkins-directed pilot summer
program were selected by Poly teachers, who aimed for a group
of both sexes with varying abilities and interests. 
    "Ultimately, we are trying to give them a glimpse of
what could be ahead for them in terms of the interesting,
creative work that is typical of good universities," said Dr.
Westgate, the William B. Kouwenhoven Professor of electrical
and computer engineering, and director of the project. The
professor, who chaired the Committee for the 21st Century's
strategic study group on on diversity, said a long-standing
interest in encouraging underrepresented groups led him to
accept a challenge from Westinghouse to develop the summer
program. Additional funding from Baltimore Gas and Electric
and Bell Atlantic supports the four-week pilot session that
ends this week. 
    Two Poly teachers, James Leitess and Dan Conrad, staff
the classroom with help from three recent Poly graduates who
are studying engineering or science. Dana Riley, Poly '93 and
a sophomore in the School of Engineering, was interested in
outreach work at the school and sought out Dr. Westgate when
he heard about the proposed program. Poly graduates Dustin
Green, who will enter the California Institute of Technology
this fall, and Monefia Bailey, who is headed to Morgan State
University, are the other student teachers. 
    "This is about implanting initiative. [The students]
need someone to ask them 'why?' From there, there's a spark,"
Riley said. Back at his alma mater, the students buzz around
him with questions about physics and engineering. Riley
offers advice on their projects, performs impromptu
experiments and talks about college life. 
    During a recent tour of Home-wood Academic Computing,
Riley and Green put the 11th-graders on the Internet, where
they met computer-users in Mexico and Spain within minutes.
Some of the students want to open their own computer network
    "We unleashed a monster," Green joked.
    The students gave high marks to the program, despite
minor griping about the Hopkins-provided lunches; they would
eat pizza every day if it were possible, Dr. Westgate
    "It's very informal, and we are getting to experiment
with our own ideas," said Mary Grandea, an 11th-grader. "We
are learning about solar energy, and how to use our
    The Poly faculty, too, find the program an exciting way
to teach. 
    "It's a wonderful ratio, and the kids get a lot more
guidance," said Leitess, a physics teacher, who had to turn
away late-comers interested in the program. "I have easily 48
students who would like to be here." 
    Leitess found the students patient and hardworking: "You
put as much material in front of them as possible, and they
run with it." When the solar car's axles didn't rotate as
planned, for instance, the students started over, some
working beyond the confines of the school day to get things
    Dr. Westgate is pleased with the pilot, which he
anticipates will be renewed next summer.
    "I think this program is important economically to the
region, and to the university... making more visible the
opportunities that Hopkins has," Dr. Westgate said. While
only a few Poly alumni enter Hopkins as undergraduates each
year, the professor hopes some may become graduate students
or faculty.   
    But these days, he simply enjoys watching the young
people create.
    "Some of the students seemed amazingly more inventive
than I'd anticipated," Dr. Westgate said. "There's an
enormous talent in the Baltimore city schools, and Baltimore
Polytechnic Institute reflects the very best."

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