Stronger Families. Stronger Communities. Stronger Washington

In By Emily Fitzgerald / 

W.F. West’s halls are typically quiet over the summer as students and teachers enjoy their well-deserved summer break, but this week, the school was full of activity as students from around the area participated in the University of Washington’s annual science, math, technology and engineering (STEM) camp. 

The camp, which is open to students entering grades 9-12 in the upcoming school year, has been held at W.F. West High School for nearly a decade thanks to a partnership between the Chehalis Foundation and the University of Washington. 

The first two days of this year’s four-day camp were dedicated to an engineering project, while the second half of the camp was dedicated to the medical side of STEM, according to organizers. 

For the engineering projects, students were broken into small teams and tasked with building  Rube Goldberg machines, defined by University of Washington chemical engineering assistant professor Alex Prybutok as “really complex devices that do a simple task,” out of recycled materials such as cardboard and soda cans with the goal of dumping a water bottle into a recycling bin. 

Organizers with the University of Washington’s engineering department asked students to pretend they were employees of an engineering firm that had been hired by a local government “to make art installations that serve as inspiration for why recycling is interesting and good and fun and can be creative and artistic,” Prybutok said. 

Students were divided into four teams, with three subgroups in each team. Each subgroup was responsible for one section of the Rube Goldberg machine and the team as a whole had to make the sections work together.  

“This is the ultimate communication exercise,” University of Washington faculty member Dan Rather said. 

When asked why camp organizers picked this engineering project, Prybutok said, “I wanted to pick something that was very team-oriented … There was a lot of coordination. I wanted something that was doable in the time frame of a two-day project, (and) I wanted something that was minimal waste creation.” 

With a minor exception for things like tape, all the materials the students could use for their machines were recycled materials Prybutok and other faculty accumulated over the weeks leading up to the camp. 

State lawmakers Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, and Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, stopped by the camp Tuesday, Aug. 8, to see the culmination of the students’ engineering projects. 

Every time I come, I’m just in awe of all the talent we have in our communities here

Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia

“I see this kind of excitement for engineering in our community, and it’s just a great, great start for what you have in front of you,” Braun said. 

Providence Swedish, one of the camp’s longtime sponsors, led the transition from engineering into the medical side of STEM on Wednesday with demonstrations from a variety of different leaders within Providence. 

“We just answer questions and highlight just the diversity of roles that are within a hospital or health care environment,” Providence Southwest Chief Executive Darin Goss said Tuesday. 

“You don’t just have to become a doctor to work in health care,” Providence Senior Communication Manager Chris Thomas added. 

For more information on the camp, visit  

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