Camp course sparks young designing minds for geometric careers

Computer-based lessons offer look at work world

August 29, 1999|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Not many teen-agers can say they spent their summer designing a military tank.

But 16 budding military engineers did just that in Harford County, using Army research techniques and Lockheed-Martin software to create a computer-generated, three-dimensional World War II tank.

Call them techno-geeks if you want, but these high school students say they're learning valuable -- and potentially marketable -- computer skills at "Geometric Modeling Boot Camp."

"My friends do make fun of me, but that's OK," said Alicesara Boriboon, 17, who will be a senior at Aberdeen High School."I say, `Hey, I'm learning something, and I'm not spending $5,000 to do it.' "

The unusual program was developed by the Northeastern Maryland Technology Council and Geometric Solutions Inc., a modeling company at the county's Higher Education and Applied Technology (HEAT) Center near Aberdeen. The Harford County school system, the Army Research Laboratory, and the Ordnance Museum also cooperated on the pilot project.

The heart of the program is geometric modeling, which uses computer technology to generate detailed, piece-by-piece designs that can be assembled on-screen into a final product. By using software and measurements, modelers are able to design trucks, tanks, and other equipment.

Geometric Solutions Inc. employees Tim Callis and Harry Reed volunteered as instructors and selected four students each from Aberdeen, Edgewood, C. Milton Wright and Havre de Grace high schools.

"We went in with computers and gave a demonstration, and we looked for the students who were really into it," Callis said. "Attendance was mandatory, so we wanted to compile a group who would be really committed."

A student from each school was placed in one of four teams. Working with computer equipment and software worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, the teams set out to design the components of a tank, with all four teams collaborating on a design for a portfolio.

In addition to three night sessions a week, students met at the Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground every Saturday to take measurements of a tank similar to the one they were modeling. One recent evening, the students crowded around the computers, in a rush to finish the tank for a final inspection before graduation tomorrow and to prepare a presentation of their work to a panel of technology experts in early September. A power outage rendered the computers useless for almost an hour, so once the system was up and running, they scrambled to get down to work.

"Tim, do we fix this one corner here?" David Crue, a 16-year-old Havre de Grace student, asked Callis as he peered into the computer screen at the tank's turret. "These edges aren't meeting."

Chris Stone, an Edgewood High 16-year-old with plenty of experience on his home computer, said camp was challenging.

"The first couple of days, my head hurt," Stone said, smiling. "But it's fun. I've been using computers since I was 10, but it still wasn't easy because it was something new to me."

Organizers and participants said that in addition to teaching valuable technical skills the students can use at work, the project gave the students a valuable lesson in teamwork.

"We only had six weeks to learn all of this," said Bob Hartley, 17, a C. Milton Wright High senior. "It was the first time we had met each other, and we had to learn who was good at what."

Instructor Harry Reed said the program's sponsors hope to offer the program next year and expand it into other counties.

This year's boot camp participants already have expressed interest in working as instructional aides at next year's camp. But 16-year-old Nathan Tiller, from C. Milton Wright, said he may forgo modeling boot camp for the real thing.

Tiller, who wants to join the Navy, said, "This experience is definitely going to help because I'd like to go into communications and electronics."

Pub Date: 8/29/99

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