Inside University of Puerto Rico’s Chemical Engineering Camp

Teams of five to six high school students worked against the clock to optimize an oil-water extraction. Their budget was limited and efficiency was chief in their minds. These students were getting their first taste of a chemical engineering challenge. This competition, designed to demonstrate the practical applications of chemical engineering, was the concluding activity at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) AIChE Student Chapter’s Chemical Engineering Camp on April 13, earlier this year.

Chemical engineering as a career option

The goal of the Chemical Engineering Camp is to help high school students explore chemical engineering as a possible career option. UPR achieved this through a full day of interactive activities, including demonstrations, lab tours, and discussions with students and faculty.

Science demos taught camp participants about chemical engineering principles and showed them how they apply in the real world. A tour of the chemical engineering facilities at UPR allowed the high school students to picture a future as an undergraduate majoring in chemical engineering. A Q&A panel with UPR students gave more insight into what studying chemical engineering was like and what options chemical engineers had.

The undergraduate panel members came from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and gave the camp participants a wealth of information. With years of experience in the field, Dr. David Suleiman, UPR AIChE Student Chapter Advisor, also gave the students an informative talk to introduce the students to chemical engineering. He was able to share with the high school students his career path and tell them about the diverse opportunities available to chemical engineers.

UPR AIChE members and their mentor, Dr. Suleiman, organized the camp, which was one of several held over the chapter’s history. The camp has received the support and assistance of other members of the university, including professors, the director of the chemical engineering department, the engineering dean, and the president.

Students from many backgrounds

The high school students who participated in the camp came from different public and private schools in Puerto Rico. To participate in the camp, they needed to be admitted through an application process, which is intentionally similar to the application process for entering a university. The high school students write a personal statement, seek two letters of recommendation, and submit their transcript as part of the application, which helps to familiarize them with applying to undergraduate and graduate studies. This year, 57 high school students attended the Chemical Engineering Camp.

The great success of the camp is in part due to the publicizing efforts of UPR AIChE. They called and emailed all the high schools in Puerto Rico to spread awareness of the camp and tell high school students how to apply. In addition, several years of running the camp allowed the AIChE student volunteers to learn how to best run the camp.

Arlene M Rivera Cruz, the treasurer of the UPR AIChE student chapter, has volunteered at the camp for three years. She thinks that the best advice for working with high school students is to have passion and patience. “Sometimes it is a lot of work, but if you have the passion and patience, you will impact them to become chemical engineers and help change the world,” Rivera Cruz wrote.

The Chemical Engineering camp is part of the UPR AIChE chapter’s outreach program. Internally, the chapter also holds educational workshops for chemical engineering students at UPR to teach useful skills such as using Excel, programming in Python, and writing resumes.

You can learn more about UPR AIChE on its website and Facebook page.