Engineering meets entrepreneurship during UTRGV Innovation camp

BY NeiRodriguez Rangel

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley taught area high school students some valuable lessons about engineering and entrepreneurship, during the month-long Engineering Innovation Summer Camp.

UTRGV’s Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center (TMAC), College of Engineering and Computer Science and the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship teamed up with IDEA Public Schools to offer the camp, which ran from May 31 to June 24.

The summer camp is a part of TMAC’s Striving Towards Educational Pathways (STEP) summer camp that offers secondary-school students hands-on activities to learn more about engineering and technology in hopes of piquing their interest in pursuing STEM-related careers.

This year, the camp merged two important career paths: engineering and business. Students worked in “companies,” or small groups, that designed a robot for their customer: the Recycling Centers of America. Each group had to present a business plan, submit a bid and present their “recycling robot” prototype.

“We are giving them tools to decide what they want to do. We want to push the STEM careers because there is a shortage and they are needed,” said Milly Hernandez, program coordinator for TMAC. “We also want them to know about the different approaches they can take and that they can open their own businesses and be able to provide jobs in their community.”

TMAC has been working with IDEA Public Schools’ Gear Up program for the past four years to offer its STEP summer camp. This camp started with students from the sixth grade and now includes 10th- and 11th-graders.

“We’re following a cohort since they were in sixth grade, so right now we are working with rising 10th- and 11th-graders,” Hernandez said. “They started coming when they were in middle school and now they’re in high school.”

Alondra Gonzalez, 16, a rising junior from IDEA College Prep Alamo, has attended the TMAC STEP camps for the past three years.

“This camp is really great because it helps me get into what I want to do – to become an engineer,” Gonzalez said. “This program helps me see what engineering is all about beforehand.”

Elsa Garcia, a 15-year-old rising sophomore from IDEA College Prep Alamo, said this is her second year at STEP camp.

“I think this camp is a good idea because you can combine how to manage the products on the business side, and how to make them on the engineering side,” Garcia said.

Maria Leonard, a business management professor at UTRGV, was in charge of the entrepreneurial portion of the camp and considers it to be engaging and challenging.

“This combination of both the engineering and entrepreneurial careers is much more engaging to the students,” Leonard said. “It’s a great idea to bring students to get a taste of not only what college is like, but also what running a business and manufacturing a product is like. The students will now understand better what career options they have, and will be able to decide what they desire to achieve.”

Student volunteers from about 15 student organizations from the UTRGV College of Engineering, and Enactus, an entrepreneurial student organization, were involved in the camp. UTRGV students were mentors and coaches for the camp participants.

“These student organizations are spread out throughout the four weeks, and their role is to be a coach and mentor to each of the students,” said Mike Acevedo, 22, a UTRGV electrical engineering major. “They’re here as resources for the students.”

TMAC compensates the student organizations for their volunteer hours at the summer camps, which helps them raise money to attend competitions, conferences and conventions.

For more information about TMAC and the STEP camp, contact (956) 665-7011 or