News Release

COSMOS Students Explore Engineering Universe

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A COSMOS student takes a look at a kinetic sculpture he built with his classmates.

San Diego, CA, Aug, 8. 2011 -- Four weeks to build a programmable, moving sculpture that can interact with those viewing it. That was the challenge facing more than two dozen high school students this summer at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. They were taking part in COSMOS, a summer residential program for ninth- to 12th-graders who show a demonstrated interest in science and engineering.

While these high schoolers were building complex sculptures, other COSMOS students learned about climate change, earthquakes and red blood cells, among other topics. COSMOS aims to introduce high school students to science, technology, engineering and math and get them motivated to major in a related discipline in college. 

The program, which is funded by a combination of state funds, tuition fees and private foundations, takes place every summer at UC Davis, Santa Cruz, Irvine and San Diego. It serves about 160 students at each campus. At UC San Diego, it is administered by the Jacobs School of Engineering. 

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Maria Yepremian, a high school student, checks how well the kinetic structure she helped build works. 

All COSMOS students learn to work together to solve problems and to manage team projects. At UC San Diego, students also get the benefit of working with faculty members. The students building the sculptures received guidance from Nate Delson, director of UC San Diego's Mechanical Engineering Design Center, and Raymond de Callafon, a mechanical engineering professor. Students were learning skills essential for engineers, including using AUTOCAD, programing and designing parts, said Brooks Park, a high school teacher and COSMOS Teacher Fellow.

“This is a real-life engineering challenge for them,” he said.

Maria Yepremian, 16, from Hollywood, said COSMOS helped her figure out her career path. Physics has been one of her favorite subjects in high school, she said. Her guidance counselor advised her to attend the science camp at the Jacobs School and see whether engineering would be a good fit for her.

After 3 ½ weeks on campus, she had learned basic programming and AUTOCAD. Working with software that can design anything from a simple clock to an airplane model was amazing, she said. By talking to Jacobs School professors, Maria also figured out that she wants to become an industrial engineer. Making systems and processes more efficient sounds right up her alley, she said.

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COSMOS Teacher Fellow Brooks Park answers a student's question. 

“Everyone here is so great,” she said. “We learn a lot. But at the same time, we have a lot of fun activities.”

Maria, and the other 20-plus students in her COSMOS group, were tasked with building sculptures driven by a motor, a microcontroller and several sensors. Students had to program their work of art. The sculptures had to be able to move on their own. They also had to feature some form of user interface, as simple as a knob or a button. The best sculpture will be on exhibit in several venues, including the San Diego Science Festival. The rest will be disassembled and used for parts.

Nick Bagamian, 15, and his classmates, built a sculpture that included a skee ball track and a helix. He’s a member of the robotics team at his high school in Calabasas, near Santa Monica. He’s always wanted to be an engineer and his experience with COSMOS confirmed that it’s the right fit for him, he said.

“By how much fun this is, I definitely want to be an engineer,” he said.

Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering