Professor uses basketball to teach kids STEM at camp supported by Trane Technologies

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kids race to shoot basketballs
Campers race to score for their team after solving a math problem at the G.A.M.E. Time STEM basketball camp on July 5 in the University Center on the Macon campus. Photo by Christopher Ian Smith

Twenty-three rising fifth-graders are learning about science, technology, engineering and math as part of a new nine-month basketball camp led by a Mercer University engineering professor. 

The G.A.M.E. Time program kicked off with a one-week intensive STEM camp on the Macon campus in July. It will continue throughout the school year, with kids meeting on one Saturday each month, and culminate with a trip to an Atlanta Hawks game in the spring. G.A.M.E. stands for Growing Aptitude in Math and Engineering.

melinda hollingshed wears a white and black striped referee shirt
Dr. Melinda Hollingshed, assistant professor of industrial engineering, leads the G.A.M.E. Time STEM basketball camp on July 5 in the University Center on the Macon campus. Photo by Christopher Ian Smith

“Most kids can relate to sports, or they enjoy sports in some manner, and math and science is kind of intimidating to some kids,” said Dr. Melinda Hollingshed, assistant professor of industrial engineering in the School of Engineering. “I wanted to present math and science in a non-intimidating way.” 

The camp is free for the students, who attend local public schools, thanks to a lead gift from the Trane Technologies Foundation. The Blue Bird Foundation, as well as other independent donors, also contributed funds to purchase basketball shoes for the camp participants. 

The summer camp included time in the classroom before heading to the intramural basketball courts, where they saw demonstrations of concepts they learned in class. Activities included measuring angles and the perimeter of the court, calculating free throw percentages, and doing sliding drills to help understand how friction and other forces of physics impact the game of basketball. 

Over the course of the program, students also will learn how shoes impact a basketball player’s performance and design their own shoe, Dr. Hollingshed said. 

“Back in the ‘70s, if you looked at the bottom of basketball players’ shoes, the bottoms were really kind of basic, but now with science, they’ve changed the way the bottom of shoes are designed to maximize traction,” she said. “I’m going to talk about the evolution of that shoe design for safety, biomechanics and human factors engineering.”

Children at the G.A.M.E. Time STEM basketball camp play a game in which they race to shoot the basketball and score a point for their team after solving a math problem written on a whiteboard. Photos by Christopher Ian Smith

Dr. Hollingshed earned her Bachelor of Science in Engineering at Mercer and went on to achieve her master’s and Ph.D. degrees. Before that, she played basketball at The University of the South, where she earned an undergraduate physics degree, and attended Central High School in Macon. 

“Mercer has a huge impact on the community, so anytime I can reach out and touch public schools, I’m open to doing that,” she said. “Being able to have an impression on young minds and pull kids into engineering at a young age or get them interested in it is rewarding to me, especially being able to do it in Bibb County where I grew up and in a school system that I was educated in and at a university that I attended.” 

Mercer students and Trane Technologies volunteers helped at the camp. Trane employees also talked to the kids about their engineering careers, said Mercer alumna Katie Davis, vice president for engineering and technology at Trane Residential. 

“One of our missions at Trane Technologies is around uplifting the community, and we’re heavily devoted to STEM education,” she said. “The research shows that the sooner you involve children in engineering and STEM activities, the more successful they will be and the more likely they will be to pursue it.”

Students measure the court and record their findings at the G.A.M.E. Time camp on July 5 in the University Center. Photos by Christopher Ian Smith

Davis, who graduated from the School of Engineering in 1998 with a major in mechanical engineering, said as a kid she often would build things with her dad. Her interest in engineering evolved in middle and high school, leading her through college and graduate school and to the position she has today. She also serves as chair of Mercer’s National Engineering Advisory Board

“It’s important to me to be involved in that board to help students and advance the engineering school and its connections to industry,” she said. 

Also at the summer camp, Dr. Amro Khasawneh, assistant professor of industrial engineering, worked with a few Mercer students on a related project. They used 360 and GoPro cameras to capture the camp, with plans to create an immersive virtual experience, so students with physical disabilities could attend the camp using a virtual reality head-mounted display.

“Making the camp accessible with virtual reality provides students with physical disabilities equal access and gives them the ability to play and have a similar experience to the other students on the basketball court,” Dr. Khasawneh said.

A mercer student wears a go pro on his head. a 360 camera is in the background.
A Mercer University student captures the G.A.M.E. Time STEM basketball camp using 360 and GoPro cameras. Photo by Christopher Ian Smith

 

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Jennifer Falk
Jennifer Falk is director of digital communications at Mercer. She edits and writes feature stories for The Den and examines web data and analytics to drive content decisions. She also creates and supervises the creation of content for primary University web pages and e-newsletters.