“My Daughter Blossomed In Those Two Short Weeks” USC Viterbi Summer Engineering Camp Makes an In-Person Return


Hands-on activities and projects fostered intrapersonal STEM connections this year at Northrop Grumman Summer Engineering Camp. The 2021 session of the summer camp marks an in-person return to activities for 36 local middle school students after 18 months online. As per pandemic guidelines, the 2020 installment of the camp provided distance-learning, joining millions of others holding their programs over Zoom. While this was best for camper safety, many much needed social emotional development opportunities were lost.

“Northrop Grumman Summer Engineering Camp has been exposing educationally and economically disadvantaged middle school students to engineering disciplines through applied science, technology, and mathematics since 2017,” says Ben Louie, director of the camp.


Northrop Grumman Summer Engineering Camp 2021 implemented a full return complete with pandemic guideline compliance. Preventive measures included: daily screenings, proper physical distancing, mask wearing, packaged lunches, frequent disinfection and individualized supplies. During the camp, students were able to explore an assortment of engineering disciplines including: aerospace, civil, electrical, environmental, and mechanical engineering and computer science – all in person.

For their final project, students followed the theme “Make Cities Inclusive, Safe, Resilient and Sustainable” to design and build an ideal inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable city of 10,000 people, incorporating air transportation systems. The teams presented their model city to parents and staff, with prototypes to address the growing real-world problem of homelessness in Los Angeles. 

On the last day of camp, campers responded to statements on a rating scale,1-5; 5 being the most in agreement, regarding their general knowledge and motivation throughout the summer camp. The average was 4. Where students were asked to rank their intrinsic goal orientation, interest/task value, and self-efficacy, the average rank was 4.44, 6% higher than the previous virtual year. 


Furthermore, students showed considerable academic improvement. Not only did the average correctness rise 3 points in the time between taking the pre-assessment and the post assessment, the majority of students scored between 70-90% compared to 40-60% on the pre-assessment.

This overwhelming response can be attributed to the ample hands-on STEM activities and projects with distinct labs for each discipline. Also contributing to these results is a reported sense of belonging and connection to peers and camp instructors. 

“After over a year of distance learning, this was the first opportunity that these students had to physically interact. In a physical environment we were all in the same space and the instructors were actually able to impart knowledge, enthusiasm and most importantly, inspiration in kids to get excited about engineering and becoming our next generation of STEM leaders,” says Louie. While the students were also engaged during distanced learning, connecting to the material was a challenge Louie continued.

The Summer Camp continued to serve its mission this summer as it returned to the hands-on engagement, interaction and connection at the heart of Northrop Grumman. 

In final reflections, a camp parent had this to say: “It really makes a difference for them to participate in something more hands-on, which also allows them to assimilate the experience as a preview of their future if they work hard and stay focused. I was particularly amazed at how much my daughter blossomed in those two short weeks. During our drives home she would share all of the things that she was learning, and she would always seem motivated to return for the next class. Furthermore, I feel like this was a powerful experience for her and continues to reinforce the idea that she can do anything she sets her mind to, and most importantly that it's all within her reach.”

Nico, a 2021 Northrop Grumman Summer Camp student stated: “It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot in the two weeks. This experience definitely inspired me to not just become an aerospace engineer but an astronautical engineer. It’s all because of attending this camp and learning about the different types of engineering.”


Written by Annenberg junior, Anita Tiara Holman

Published on September 13th, 2021

Last updated on September 13th, 2021