Oh Wow Manufacturing Camp Focuses on COVID-19

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – On Thursday, Tim Styranec, a health and safety specialist at Youngstown State University, walked over to a chalkboard filled with chemical structures. He explained that the hydroxyl group made rubbing alcohol a disinfectant.

Styranec was the guest during the second day of the summer manufacturing camp hosted by Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology. This year’s camp focused on biomedical engineering and touched on COVID-19.

“There are different kinds of masks you can get,” Styranec said at the start of his presentation. “This afternoon, I’ll show you several different kinds of masks. Before we go downstairs, while we’re [in a YSU chemistry lab] this morning, I’ll see if I can blow a candle out or a match out with this mask.”

The two-week camp, which runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays through Aug. 6, will be conducted through Zoom and was free for girls in grades 5-8. Ralf Urbach, Oh Wow’s director of education, sent the students packages of equipment so they could follow along at home and participate in activities.

Urbach said the goal was to get the students to think creatively when faced with a problem. He said making masks out of coffee filters and dryer sheets won’t be ideal, but it gets their focus on the scientific process.

“We’re putting out there a broad scale of ideas and thoughts in their head, keeping along the lines of what Summer Manufacturing Camp is, and that’s teaching that our valley was built with our hands,” Urbach said.

Urbach and Styranec used creative ways to demonstrate concepts like pathology. For example, Urbach packed toothpicks in the children’s kits. The students weren’t told the toothpicks were covered in glitter, a way to represent how easily viruses spread.

The manufacturing camp was part of a wider STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and manufacturing) camp put together in conjunction with the YWCA Mahoning Valley. YWCA Chief Operating Officer Varada Bhide said the goal this year was to get girls involved in activities from an early age.

While the manufacturing camp runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the camp also provides entrepreneurial and 3D printing courses on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Also students are taught art every afternoon.

“We’re trying to empower the girls to get entrepreneurial thinking so they don’t have to limit themselves to a job,” Bhide said.

Bhide said the girls are presented a wide range of activities to accommodate their potential career interests. For example, she said art might benefit a child interested in creating a t-shirt company.

“They learned computer-aided design and they designed their own keychains, which will get 3D printed They designed a logo that will get printed onto t-shirts [and] they will learn how to develop a business plan,” Bhide said.

In addition to tackling the issue of women in STEM, the camp is also encouraging minority girls to learn about the field. Bhide said the number of minority girls has increased over the years and some 50% to 60% of the girls in this year’s group were minorities.

“I take pride in making sure every child has the ability to be a part of this,” Urbach said. “And if they can’t be a part of this camp, then what we do is we take the ideas from this camp and bring them right to the schools.”

Bhide and the YWCA used their housing programs to help find girls interested in the camp. She said other housing programs also helped recruit students.

“We do have a lot of families from at poverty and below poverty,” Bhide said. “And I think it’s important for them to be exposed to these careers and information about these careers because I think the fear factor is built in the middle school years, so it’s important for us to cater to that age and the population.”

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.