South Florida

JROTC Students Participate in STEM Camp Program

The junior ROTC programs in South Florida high schools provide several benefits to students. Leadership skills, discipline, and personal responsibility come to mind. Now, thanks to a summer camp funded by the Army, you can add science training to that list.

300 JROTC cadets, each selected by his or her commander, are spending a week at what you might call STEM boot camp at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. They come from Broward, Palm Beach, and Hillsborough counties.

They’re building on knowledge they’ve learned at school.

“But this takes it to another level, you have to apply those skills, while these kids can ace a test, that’s easy for them, but when it comes to apply that in a real-world environment, that’s when it starts getting shaky, so the more we introduce them to that environment, the better they are and prepared they are to move on to bigger and better things,” said Major Thomas Johnson, the JROTC leader at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach.

The camp includes courses in a variety of STEM fields, including aerospace engineering, in which students build gliders. Jamie Gagnon, a student at Coconut Creek High School, described her airplane to us just before she tossed it to demonstrate its flight capabilities.

“Everything is very symmetrical, so with symmetry comes great flow with the air, so you don’t get that much force going to the front of it,” Jamie said.

In another class, the kids design and build miniature drag racing cars out of balsa wood. The cars zoom down a sixty-foot track at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour. How do they know how fast they’re going? It’s all about math. 

“I love doing the calculations and dividing and multiplying, multiplying again and then dividing back to find the ultimate miles per hour,” said Samantha Semas, a student at Hollywood Hills High School.

The campers are learning rocket science by building and launching rockets.

“We take the tangent and we extrapolate the height from that using Pythagorean theorem, so there is a lot of math involved behind this little device here,” explained Katherine Metheny, a student at Newsome High near Tampa, as she held a rocket in her hand.

Another group of students showed off their catapult and their knowledge of physics at the same time they launched a wiffle ball. 

“We have the potential energy when you pull it down like that and then once it’s being released it’s kinetic energy and then while it’s in the air, that’s gravitational potential energy,” said Alexis Vera, a student at Alonso High School in Hillsborough County.

The cadets get a full immersion STEM experience while they also experience life on a college campus. Major Johnson says the idea is to get them ready for life away from home and for potential careers in the STEM fields.

They’re more ready for lift-off than ever before. 

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