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 School of Engineering gets a surprise visit from Rep. Mike Honda

Nearly six dozen middle- and high-school girls from Santa Clara Unified School District got a surprise visitor when they came to the SCU for Success Camp, Feb. 16. U.S. Representative Mike Honda, a veteran Democrat who represents much of Santa Clara County, stopped by to show his support for the girls, whose curriculum for the day was funded by a program procured by Honda.

“What’s the highest math and science you’ve taken?” Honda asked the multicultural group of girls, who impressed him with answers like trigonometry, chemistry and physics. He encouraged them to ask questions in class, apply themselves and “get good sleep.’’

He told them how he’d just come from NASA Ames, and seen a demonstration of new aerodynamic semi trucks, which were expected to save tons of carbon dioxide and diesel fuel thanks to their design.

“The stuff you are thinking about studying now has many applications,’’ said Honda.

“You really are at a point where you can make all sorts of discoveries.’’

The girls worked on three projects during the day, including an underwater-robot project created by students of mechanical engineering professor Chris Kitts. Several engineering students were on hand to assist the campers. The girls also got a tour of the 2007 Solar Decathlon house as a way to learn about green buildings and sustainability, and worked on a project sponsored by the Girl Scouts to learn more about recycling and “green” living.

The robotics project arose out of RETINA, which stands for Robotic Exploration Technologies in Astrobiology, a partnership with SCU, NASA, and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. RETINA includes undergraduate and graduate learning, curriculum creation for grade schoolers, and outreach to K-12 students such as the Success Camp students.

Rep. Honda helped secure $382,000 for Santa Clara University to be part of RETINA.

The girls are part of a program called GAINS (Girls Achieving in Nontraditional Subjects), which aims to break the achievement gap for girls in math and science. SCU electrical engineering professor Shoba Krishnan is a regular adviser to GAINS.

Click here to view a slideshow of the event.

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