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Engineering & Construction Camp Inspires Students to Careers in STEM

Photo credit: SAME

The Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) is returning once again to the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA), June 23-29, 2024, for the annual SAME/Air Force Academy Engineering & Construction Camp. The two organizations first held the camp in 2000 and each year nearly 100 high school students interested in careers in STEM and military service arrive in Colorado Springs for a week-long immersion in skill-building, teamwork, problem-solving, and leadership.

The campers, which come from all parts of the United States, must be rising juniors or seniors in high school and have expressed an interest in applying to a Service Academy or ROTC Program. Upon arrival, they are grouped in teams for the week, during which they complete engineering- and construction-related tasks in a competitive environment designed to test both their technical acumen as well as their communication and collaboration. The Air Force Academy provides world-class facilities for the program. Campers are supervised, mentored, coached, led, and guided 24/7 by STEM practitioners, young professionals, and students from the academy.

A highlight of the camp schedule is the concrete beam testing event. Being held this year on the morning of June 24, the concrete beam activity gives the students a direct opportunity to work with heavy equipment and see the quality (or issues) of their work right away, while leveraging teamwork to problem-solve and deliver a final constructed concrete beam. The campers get hands-on support from professionals, ensuring safe procedures are followed and learned. 

Local Colorado Springs Civil Engineer, USAFA Graduate and Air Force Veteran Col. (Ret.) James Hodges is the camp director. Hodges leads a group of local and national volunteers to help with the camp. Several USAFA and other service academy staff and cadets will be teach and mentor students during this STEM Camp.  

Other engineering and construction projects during the week at camp include designing and building dog houses, water quality and filtration challenges, visits to laboratories on the campus, and an engineering reaction course competition. There are also ample opportunities for high school students to build camaraderie and friendships with their peers in social events, sessions with senior leader guest speakers, and extracurricular activities.

Countless future military engineers and STEM professionals are alumni of the SAME/Air Force Academy Camp, having matriculated through the program over the last two decades. Their testimonials of the impact the week at camp had on their future, and how they truly discovered that engineering and STEM would be their path, is inspiring. So, too, is the mentorship of hundreds of young professionals and other volunteers who have remained connected to the campers in the years after, serving as resources on their journey to success and service. 

Current SAME National President Sharon Krock, F.SAME, served multiple years as a mentor during the camp, with the experience resonating with her as a great example of the power of inspiring youth toward STEM career paths through the SAME camps. Says Krock: “The campers’ exposure to such varied and unique STEM career paths in one location within a single week is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that both campers and staff will never forget. The mentors are the bridge spanning between camper’s dreams and their potential future careers. The connections made provide the campers with easy-to-approach resources they can tap into as they chart their own career path.” 

During 2024 SAME will hold five camps in partnership with the military services. The Air Force Academy Camp is both SAME’s first and longest-running national camp, as well as the largest in terms of number of campers each year. 

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