UMO offers programs for middle school and high school students.

ORONO (AP) – The state is trying to bolster children’s interest in engineering through summer camps that combine fun and learning.

Sixteen boys and two girls, all middle-school students, attended a weeklong Lego day camp this month, sponsored by the University of Maine.

University officials hope that the camp will encourage children to study engineering, particularly at the University of Maine.

Students who attend college in Maine are more likely to stay in Maine, said Karen J. Horton, assistant professor of mechanical engineering technology at the university.

The summer programs “are good for campers and good for the state,” she said.

Most Maine companies need engineers, and the state’s economic prosperity depends on getting more children excited about careers in engineering, Camp Director Tom Bickford said.

“If we can get and keep these kids, this is our future,” he said.

The campers use Lego Mindstorm kits, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which link the company’s famous bricks to computer technology.

Campers also created robots that meandered around the floor in mystifying patterns. The students would love to build robots that compete in battle, Bickford said. But battles are prohibited.

“If you had these guys smashing into each other,” he said, “there would be pieces all over the place.”

Some of the campers belong to teams at their schools that compete in statewide competitions, vying for a Lego brick trophy. There were 42 teams in Maine last year, double the number of the previous year. A team from Pownal Elementary School won first place with a robot called Twister.

The university is also offering computer-aided design (CAD) summer camp for high school students. Several campers who attended last year’s CAD Camp are now studying engineering at the university.

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