For many students who attend Camp Invention®, the opportunity to problem solve and create makes an impact that lasts far beyond their time at camp. Program participants engage in a hands-on, immersive experience that helps them grow into confident and innovative thinkers for years to come.
As a former Camp Invention participant, Trevor Ulman knows firsthand how the experience can set the stage for a lifetime of STEM learning. Having grown up near Akron, Ohio, he attended Camp Invention for several years as an elementary school student and then continued to stay involved with the program as a Leadership Intern. Now a student heading into his last semester at Clemson University, Ulman has been studying electrical engineering for the past four years.
Ulman recently worked on a senior design project that involved building a prototype out of upcycled materials — a process he knew well from his time at Camp Invention. He spoke to the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) about his experience with the program and how it provided an important foundation for his pursuit of a STEM education and career.
What do you remember most about attending Camp Invention?
The biggest thing that stuck out for me was the design and construction process, which is a big part of Camp Invention. They give you a problem and you have to come up with a way to solve it and then build it. I guess that is something that has stuck with me because I feel like it's such a useful skill to have, even if you don't realize it at that age. For any STEM major really, it’s useful to have that beginning understanding of the problem-solving process.
Were there aspects of Camp Invention that you think sparked your interest in pursuing STEM fields?
It helped me realize how much I enjoyed the designing and constructing and problem-solving process, and even into my high school years, I was carrying that with me. When you're looking for something that you want to do for the rest of your life, engineering is definitely a good option for that. And I haven't regretted that decision at all.
Even more so with the senior design projects that I’ve been working on, it's almost similar to Camp Invention except at a higher level. We’re getting into groups, being delivered a problem and being tasked with solving it by building something.
What are some of the important skills Camp Invention teaches that are helpful in pursuing a STEM education and career?
Definitely the ability to work in groups. As you advance through school, there are a lot of group work opportunities and you tend to see the difference between people who aren't as comfortable working in groups and people who have some experience with it. I think being able to take on a leadership role is another thing that you can take away from Camp Invention, as far as organizing the group, making sure everyone knows what their tasks are and bringing it all together.
Can you describe the prototyping process for one of your recent design projects?
During the preliminary stage of our senior design project we were supposed to build a condiment refill station. So we had all these condiments and had to create a machine that could tell if they were empty and refill them automatically. We were using toilet paper tubes to represent the condiment bottles and tearing apart cardboard boxes to build the entire thing. I definitely felt like I had some experience doing that from Camp Invention and knowing what I could use for different pieces, and even just the basics of using a hot glue gun and duct tape.
Why do you think that invention and innovation are important?
I guess I would have to look at it from a technological standpoint since that's my focus. Technology is everything right now. If you're not keeping up with it, then you're getting left behind. And I think no matter what field you're in, being able to innovate is going to help you land a job and be able to adapt quickly. The more you’re inventing, the better you get at learning new skills and new technologies.
What’s next for you?
I will have another senior design project next semester, which will be a totally new project since they change every year. After that, I'm planning to graduate and work in Nashville as an electrical engineer for Bridgestone.
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