Once upon a time, summer camp was a place out in the woods with fresh air, hiking trails, a cold lake and lots of mosquitoes. Today, there are lots of alternatives, ranging from space camp to band camp. Now comes . . . manufacturing camp.

Once upon a time, summer camp was a place out in the woods with fresh air, hiking trails, a cold lake and lots of mosquitoes. Today, there are all kinds of alternatives for kids, ranging from space camp and band camp to computer camp and football camp. Now comes . . . manufacturing camp.

This week, a group of high school students are participating in the second annual Engineering and Manufacturing Camp at the University of Mississippi. The six-day, overnight camp in Oxford, MS, is organized and hosted by the Center for Manufacturing Excellence. It will also be held next week for a different group of teenagers.

Campers will be introduced to basic engineering concepts and manufacturing processes, and participate in a wide variety of hands-on activities. They will also take several field trips to local manufacturing plants to see real-world applications of engineering and get an up-close look at state-of-the-art production tools and equipment.

“We are not aware of any other camp that offers the same kind of experience as this unique educational opportunity,” says Ryan Miller, project manager for the Center for Manufacturing Excellence. “[We] created this camp to offer students a glimpse into the world of modern manufacturing. It was designed to offer educational, hands-on activities that reinforce teamwork, innovation and creativity, while highlighting the opportunities that await our campers as future leaders.”

During the camp, students will learn about computer-aided design software and will be exposed to the basic concepts behind material science, process flow and lean manufacturing. “Campers are [also] presented with many problem-solving activities,” says Miller.

For instance, the philosophy of just-in-time manufacturing will be addressed through the use of modeling projects. Students will fabricate various products using composite materials. They will also be given opportunities to learn basic prototyping using a CNC machine and a 3D printer.

In addition, campers will visit two local facilities that exemplify lean manufacturing. “Both GE Aviation, Batesville, MS, and Viking Range Corp., Greenwood, MS, have agreed to host our campers and display their products and manufacturing processes,” explains Miller. “Campers interact with plants managers, assembly line workers, and design engineers at both locations. Not only do they get to witness manufacturing in progress, but they get to see the people who make it a reality.”

The camp is open to residents and non-residents of Mississippi. “Many of our non-resident attendees are from the Memphis, TN, area,” Miller points out. However, each camp session is limited to 20 kids.

Students must submit an application form to be considered for the camp, which costs $50. The selection process is based on a teacher recommendation letter and a brief essay that students are asked to submit. Candidates are selected based on their strengths in math and science, in addition to their ability to solve problems, work in teams and grasp new concepts.

I applaud the University of Mississippi for its efforts to educate tomorrow’s manufacturing engineers. And, kudos to GE Aviation and Viking Range for participating in the program. It would be nice to see similar camps established in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin and other states with top-notch universities and a large manufacturing base.