While most students will spend their summer break playing video games or hanging out by the pool, three Limestone County students will be exploring cutting-edge technologies such as medlytics, radar imaging and artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The MIT Beaver Works Summer Institute is a rigorous, world-class Science Technology Engineering and Math program open to a select few.
Keith Henderlong, MIT Lincoln Laboratory Huntsville field site lead, said Lincoln Laboratory became familiar with the caliber of students in the Limestone County school system after donating robotics equipment to its FIRST Robotics team last year.
“Since we had the existing relationship and knew they had students interested in robotics, we thought they would want to have students apply to the program,” Henderlong said.
When the time came to start recruiting students for summer 2018, he encouraged Limestone County schools gifted specialist Monica McConnell to put the word out to all of her gifted students with engineering aspirations to apply.
The application process was multifaceted and demanding, requiring students to write essays, provide proof of extracurricular involvement and complete a 20-hour-long online engineering course.
In the end, only three students — Bernard Alottey, Andrew Farmer and Marcus Hardy made the cut.
Allotey, who has been enamored with computer programming since he got into coding in sixth grade, said he hopes participating in the BWSI program will give him an idea of what it will be like to be an engineer.
“Getting to be at one of the best engineering colleges in the world is a great opportunity,” Allotey said. “I think it will give me hands-on experience before I get to college.”
From the looks of this year's itinerary, Allotey and his classmates will not be disappointed.
The three Limestone County students will join 200 other high school juniors from across the country in completing eight mind-stretching courses during their four-week stay at MIT. In addition to learning how to develop navigational software that allows autonomous miniature race cars to maneuver through complex racetracks, the elite group of students will build a cubseat with an imaging payload, build an Unmanned Air System-Synthetic Aperture Radar, perform security assessments on a wireless home door lock and create their own virtual assistants like Amazon's Alexa.
Founded in 2016, BWSI is designed to spark a national and international expansion of engineering education and increase students' exposure and understanding of the many scientific fields related to engineering.
“And the best part,” McConnell said. “Is it is completely free for the students who are accepted, except for transportation to and from Boston.”
For that, McConnell is hoping area businesses will help offset some of the travel costs by partnering with Limestone County's gifted program.
Farmer, who is also a junior at East Limestone, said he's a little nervous about the coursework but overall the aspiring astronautical engineer is ready for the challenge.
“I think what I'm looking forward to the most is learning new skills that will be applicable to the industry when I seek employment,” he said, adding that “working with other like-minded individuals at MIT will be an eye-opening experience.”
Farmer will give up attending band camp this summer so he can attend the engineering program, a decision the bass drummer did not take lightly.
“I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get a leg up on the competition,” he said. “It (the BWSI program) will give me skills and help me gain admission into the college I want to attend, plus it will look really good when I'm applying for scholarships.”
Farmer has narrowed down his list of prospective colleges to Auburn, the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Georgia Tech.
Like Farmer and Allotey, West Limestone junior Hardy is a bit intimidated by the prospect of living in Boston for a month, but he can't wait to learn from instructors at one of the country's premier engineering colleges.
Hardy said he's always had a healthy interest in the sciences, but found his true calling to become either an electrical or biomechanical engineer when he enrolled in the engineering program at the Limestone County Career Technical Center.
From July 8 to Aug. 5, the trio will experience all the trappings of college life, including living on the MIT campus in a residence hall, eating in the student dining hall and attending weekday lectures and conferences from early morning to late afternoon.
“They are exceptional students,” McConnell said. “Some of the best I've ever taught, and I know they will make the most of this opportunity.”