Lake Deane: Making it Happen

Girl Scout and Bird Engineering Student Sponsors Robots & Rockets Camp for Special Needs Participants

She’s an engineering student at the specialty high school program at L.C. Bird High School and she’s a Girl Scout. She had the idea that special needs kids should get to learn some of the cool thinks she does in the engineering specialty program.

Lake Deane got the brainchild that she’d like to sponsor a special-needs summer camp on science, especially robots and rockets. As a Girl Scout, Deane is working towards her Gold Award, which is similar to the Eagle Scouts designation in Boy Scouts, and she wanted to sponsor the camp.

The STEM camp — Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) — was one-week long and held at the Bird Engineering campus this past week. “We looked for special needs kids that are high-functioning,” Dean shared. “In hopes that those with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, and the like, could be exposed to some engineering and learn some new things.”

Deane got the idea the year before and started talking about it to one of her teachers, Robert Benway. Mr. Benway, who is the director of the program, found out about a Department of Education grant that would apply to Deane’s vision. So, Deane and Benway applied for the grant with Benway taking care of the paperwork and Deane starting planning all the activities and details to accommodate 20 special needs participants.

“The plan was to host the camp for high functioning special needs kids and to focus on robotics and rockets,” Deane explained. She went on to explain that many special needs participants are just different learners. “All of the special needs kids — all of them are so different,” she said. “We have to learn their situations and have to discover what’s best for them and how to help them learn.”

Nineteen participants ended up taking part in the camp after being nominated during the school year by guidance counselors, teachers, or administrators at their schools.  Other volunteers from Bird’s engineering program and Virginia Tech helped in working with the students and the in-depth activities to build the robots and rockets. If the students could maintain the attention span of the week-long camp then they were a good fit.

The participants in the camp were mostly boys in the age group 13 to 14 years old and rising eighth or ninth graders, middle schoolers, in Chesterfield County.  “We had really good turnout,” Deane said. “We definitely made progress and they’ve had a really great time.”

Camp was basically setup in two phases — half days of rocketry and half days of robotics. The special-needs participants were introduced to new concepts in the field of robots and rockets and then got hands on experience building them and then launching and racing them. “They really had a blast with the rockets and with racing the robots they built,” Deane said.

Benway, who helped Deane with obtaining the grant, was a huge participant in the planning and all the phases of the activities for each day.

Deane, who is a rising junior in the Engineering program at L.C Bird, has aspirations to be an orthopedic surgeon and hopes to someday apply her engineering education to make bone prosthetics. “My goal is to work with people who’ve lost limbs and to engineer my own prosthetics so this camp has been a great foundation for my future,” Deane said.  Deane’s Gold Award project requires her to dedicate 100 hours on a project that impacts her community in a positive way.

Deane previously received her Silver Award, from the Girl Scouts, in seventh grade by raising $4,000 for playground equipment for Falling Creek Elementary School.

She believes problem solving is the basis of the camp. “Engineering is basically just problem solving and this camp has been a wonderful experience in math and science problem solving,” Dean shared. She believes engineering is a “great foundation for a medical career and the camp has been hands-on chance to work with problem solving.”

The special needs participants got a chance to learn and apply math and science theories to robotic and rockets. The participants were exposed to new theories and then applied them to their robotics and rocketry projects. And, they got to have fun too.

“Problem solving is a mind set,” said Deane. “I hope that we inspired the participants to recognize that they can do something in engineering and also that they can have fun and still learn so much.” The weeklong camp had the participants building rockets and constructing robots and interacting with their peers to work as a collective group and share their talents and achieve new and fun experiences. “We’re going to try to keep the camp going if we can,” Deane said.

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