By Danny Messinger and Keweenaw Now*
Michigan Tech Summer Youth Program students collect their gear and disembark from the tall sailing vessel Denis Sullivan on July 24, 2010, after one of the more challenging Michigan Tech Summer Youth programs -- a week studying Great Lakes biology on Lake Huron and Lake Superior -- including navigation experience. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
HOUGHTON -- While summer means vacation time and no classes for most middle and high school students, Michigan Tech has been offering opportunities for students from across the globe to continue learning outside the classroom during the summer. These students have been participating in unique educational experiences on Tech's campus and in the surrounding region. Now in its 38th year, the Summer Youth Program (SYP) offers over 70 week-long career and adventure explorations for young students. With programs offered in business, computing, engineering, humanities and social sciences, outdoor and environmental education, and science and technology, students with many different academic strengths and interests can find their fit.
One of the more exciting and challenging programs this year was the week-long cruise on the tall ship Denis Sullivan, in which 11 adventurous high school students from three states -- Michigan, Illinois and Connecticut -- participated. The Denis Sullivan was on its way to Duluth, Minn., to participate in the Great Lakes United TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE® 2010 race series, which offers passengers an opportunity to learn about water conservation, sustaining the environment and protecting the Great Lakes.*
After being picked up in Bay City, Mich., on July 19, students took turns helping to navigate the tall ship through Lake Huron and collected water and mud samples from Lake Superior.
Upon arriving in Houghton on July 24, the students were able to test water quality, plankton and benthos in an environmental engineering lab on the Michigan Tech campus. Some of the students stayed on campus for a second program the following week.
The Denis Sullivan was docked at the Houghton waterfront on July 24 as Summer Youth Program students disembarked from their week-long study cruise to study biological samples from Lake Superior in a Michigan Tech environmental engineering lab.* (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
"It went really well," said Cody Kangas, Youth Programs coordinator.
Jack Model, a student from Hartford, Conn., said he learned a lot about knots.
Martin Gargaro of Carp Lake, Mich., noted he had been sailing quite a few times but this was the first time on a boat this big. He said he enjoyed the trip and liked being on the water.
"I learned that rainbow trout and brown trout are invasive species," Gargaro added.
Joe Ewing of Menomonee Falls, Wis., education officer on the boat, was charged with overseeing the education program.
"This was a fantastic group of kids," Ewing said. "They stand [24-hour] watch. They become part of the crew -- besides doing the science and history."
Ewing noted the history lessons include the history of the Great Lakes shipwrecks and the history of why these towns are here.
"If it weren't for the Keweenaw Waterway and such vessels, Houghton - Hancock wouldn't be here," Ewing added.
Joe Ewing of Menomonee Falls, Wis., education officer on the Denis Sullivan, said learning about the history of the Great Lakes was part of the program. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
Ewing is a retired former math teacher who does this job as a volunteer.
"My pay is seeing these kids grow," he said.
Sarah Hamilton of Midland, Mich., said she learned a lot of sailing terms on the trip.
"It was a great experience," Hamilton said, "but I was really excited to get back to land."
Steve Patchin, director of SYP outreach and engagement, said this summer the general engineering and crime scene investigation programs were the most popular and hundreds of students participated in SYP. Most students came from the Midwest, Patchin added, but this year some international students also participated.
In addition to SYP’s primary role as an educational experience, students also gain a preview of college life by living in one of Michigan Tech’s residence halls. Summer counselors serve a role similar to that of college resident assistants by providing live-in support and guidance for attendees.
"I felt like a real student at Michigan Tech," said Billy, a high school student from Southfield, Mich. "We have a roommate and learn what it’s like to be a college student. You have to do your own laundry; Mom’s not here to help you out all the time." Billy participated in SYP’s "Bridges, Dams and Skyscrapers: Building Big" program.
SYP’s unique blend of lectures, hands-on work, and an immersive college atmosphere has even given some students a jump-start on deciding where to attend college.
"This experience has swayed me to actually come to Michigan Tech," Billy said.
Kangas said the program has had another successful summer, yet plans are already underway to make changes and improvements for next year.
"We’re trying to combine specialties and fields," Kangas explained. "A lot of the changes we have planned draw from the success of the current sports science program, which mixes [physical education] with physics."
A biomedical engineering program is being considered for next year, Patchin added.
"There’s a high demand for that field right now. We’re also looking into a program where students build a kayak, use it on [Portage Lake] and get to take it home at the end of the week," Patchin said.
Summer Youth Program students enjoy canoeing and kayaking in the Keweenaw. A future program may allow students to build their own kayak as well. (Photo courtesy Michigan Technological University)
The Summer Youth Program also takes advantage of Michigan Tech's engineering emphasis:
Sitting in an air-conditioned laboratory on a hot summer day, two engineers work together to design a three-story building. They make a scale model of their structure, double-check their design with countless calculations, and even test its integrity by ensuring it can withstand an earthquake. These engineers are not professionals, however; they’re high school students taking part in Michigan Tech’s SYP.
Just as SYP's leaders submit the program to on-going scrutiny and improvement, the same spirit guides students in their academic explorations. For the student engineers, it is not enough to design their building; they must also test and improve it. After their balsa wood model had been vigorously shaken in a simulated earthquake, the two future engineers approvingly looked over their structure one more time before showing it off to their fellow SYP participants.
Wayne, a high school student from Detroit, said he has learned an incredible amount about engineering from his experience at Michigan Tech.
"SYP was one of the best programs in my life," he said.
To learn more about Michigan Tech's Summer Youth Program, visit their Web site.
* Editor's Notes: Click here to read more about the Great Lakes United TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE® 2010 race series.
*Update: Guest reporter Danny Messinger wrote this article as part of his work in David Clanaugh's summer journalism class at Michigan Tech. The photos and quotes from the Denis Sullivan tall ship arrival were added by Keweenaw Now.