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HAMMOND | The rockets shot into the air, some plummeting down into trees while others sailed to the ground in a parachute landing.

The students controlling the launches Wednesday were enrolled in Purdue University Calumet's Engineering Technology Summer High School Workshop. They competed for highest altitude, which ended up reaching 110.5 meters.

The rocket launch, at the PUC campus in Hammond, was the final activity of the eight-week program, which offered instruction in several areas of engineering technology. The program also was the first of its kind for PUC.

Craig Engle, clinical assistant professor in mechatronics engineering technology, said the program is part of a wider effort.

"It gets students interested in a science, technology, engineering or math-related careers, such as a career in mechatronics, where there is a shortfall of skilled employees in the field," Engle said.

"Having people skilled in this ensures local industries have the resources to complete globally."

Susan Scachitti, department head of engineering technology and professor of industrial engineering technology, said the program helps students decide their futures.

"Every week they learned something new," Scachitti said. "Now they are able to have their eyes open in deciding what they want to do when they get into college."

Classes met once a week, and the 70 students created robots, welded, constructed rockets, and created and manufactured objects, among other activities.

The program was free and open to any high school student interested or to middle school students with references.

"This program enabled us to reach out to surrounding areas and show students what they can achieve here," Engle said.

Aaron Whittaker, an eighth-grader at Thea Bowman Leadership Academy in Gary, said he wants to be like his father, who is a mechanical engineer.

"I always wanted to go to Purdue, because that's where my dad went," Whittaker said.

Several of the students already were interested in engineering, but didn't have a specific field in mind before attending.

Briean McKinney attended with his cousin, Christian McKinney. Both high school students said they became more interested in engineering through the workshops.

"It helped me understand physics," Briean McKinney said. "I learned becoming an engineer is complicated, but it's fun. I look forward to coming back next year."

Scachitti said the university is planning to offer the program next summer.

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