OAKLAND -- Kenson Morris, soon-to-be fourth-grader, excitedly explains how to generate a solar car, through the use of solar panels.
After participating in a three-week summer program, he said he is now considering a career in engineering.
"It helps people know what they want to do when they grow up," Morris said. "Maybe be an engineer, maybe be a scientist. I would like to come back next year."
Morris is one of almost 400 students who participated in the Summer Engineering Experience for Kids program in Oakland. SEEK is a free summer engineering program for kids from third to eighth grade that started in Washington, D.C., in 2007.
The program is designed to help children build and work on projects to see what it's like to be an engineer. They work with African-American mentors, college students from around the nation, throughout the camp on different toys like a solar car or steel can rover.
EJ Walls, 19, grew up in Oakland and is now attending San Diego State University. Although he is not majoring in engineering, Walls said he is trying to make a difference in the community through working with children as a mentor. This is his second year with the program.
"It's hard to get a lot of youth excited about school, but when you get them thinking critically it's really great," Walls said. "I feel like they get an excitement about mathematics they wouldn't get without a camp like this."
The National Society of Black Engineers partnered with the Oakland Unified School District to help focus on revitalizing the area, and this is now the third year Martin Luther King Elementary has hosted the program for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in the Bay Area. Every year the number of students participating has increased.
"It's a part of what we feel is going to help build the community of West Oakland," said school principal Roma Groves. "In building the community we're just offering our children better options for their future."
Groves said she hopes the program will expand to the middle school in the future. As of now, the program has inspired teachers in Oakland to review the curriculum, develop a lesson from the curriculum, and from there organize a West Oakland competition in January. The goal is to keep the liveliness of the program moving and growing throughout the area, Groves added.
Victoria Nwobodo, a graduate student at Georgia State, participated as a mentor in the SEEK program for the first time this year. She received her bachelor's degree in engineering and information and communications technology. Nwobodo said she worked closely with girls throughout the camp to help increase their interest in engineering.
"I'm very big on women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)," Nwobodo said. "I hope these kids actually do become engineers and that it goes beyond the camp to expanding their intellect and their horizons.
Community members were able to see work completed throughout the program at a competition held at the elementary school on Friday. Students presented their artistic designs and participated in competitions for different projects.
Although the program is over, Leslie Gupton, an Oakland resident and mother of a participant in the program, said her son is still interested in learning. Gupton said her son asked her to buy him a solar car packet so he could build his own at home.
"It's something I could never see kids doing this early in life without this program," Gupton said. "I want my son to see these things, because I want him to want these things. This is opening doors for my baby."