Ahhh, summer vacation.

Kids don’t have to think about reading textbooks, doing homework, or studying for almost three months. They can swim, go on a family vacation, or just sleep in and relax. But some students prefer another choice — UVU PREP. It’s Utah Valley University’s Prefreshman Engineering Program.

Students from Alpine, Nebo and Provo school districts who are entering the seventh, eighth or ninth grades are eligible to participate in the free program, designed to provide opportunities for underrepresented students.

The seven-week program has been increasing in popularity since UVU started it in 2013.

“We had about 25 students then. We now have about 220,” said Madison Hunt, the program coordinator.

First-year students must have a 90% or better grade in mathematics, submit a current report card, a teacher recommendation, and an essay of 100-150 words about why they want to attend.

The curriculum is kept current with technological and scientific advances, giving students opportunities to work with objects including 3D printers, robots and virtual reality technology. Weekly “Tech Tuesday” is a workshop designed to introduce students to new technology, helping them increase their ability to solve problems using technology. Students also participate in weekly field trips, visiting high-tech businesses in the area.

The majority of those who successfully complete the first year go on to the second and third years. One student who has done this is Eli Mendoza. During his first year, he was living in Pleasant Grove. His family has moved to Oklahoma and got special permission to return for his second year of UVU PREP. He is living with his grandmother and will be joined later by the rest of his family for a visit.

“I actually was a little worried I would not be able to attend,” Mendoza said. “I was so relieved that I could actually come.” And it is an incentive for succeeding in the upcoming school year. His parents said they would allow him to attend next summer if he keeps his grades up for the regular school year.

Mendoza already has his eyes on the more-distant future.

“I kind of want to go into the engineering section,” he said. “Maybe computer programming or software. Having my own company sounds fun. Or I might work for some big company.”

Since the students come from a number of schools in the three districts, most are not acquainted with each other when they start UVU PREP. That quickly changes.

“I have met a lot of good friends here,” Mendoza said. “It is nice to be around people who like to do this.”

Ivy Duchateau, a student at Diamond Fork Junior High School in Spanish Fork, agreed.

“This is my third year to attend UVU PREP,” she said. “I really think it is interesting. I have always liked learning. I also like hanging out with these friends. They go to different schools, but it is nice to get back together at PREP.”

In the future, she would like to become a psychologist. Initially, that may seem different from a career in engineering and technology — but she sees a relationship.

“In psychology, you have to know the way the brain physically works,” she said. “You have to have good technology to make sure everything is OK.”

Mckenesy Scott attends Lakeridge Junior High School in Orem. Her plans for the future are related to engineering. “I want to build robots to help people with disabilities,” she said. “I would like to invent something that would help blind people.”

She is in her second year of UVU PREP and said she likes all the classes but is particularly fond of the engineering classes and the field trips. One she found especially memorable was going to the space center in Pleasant Grove.

The students have a chance to interact with types of people they haven’t worked with previously, who come from different backgrounds. “It helps with soft skills, leadership skills,” Hunt said. “For the most part, they are with that same group all three years.”

There will be a closing celebration at the end of the program. All the students display projects they have completed in each of their classes. They invite parents, grandparents and others. “It is a really fun event. It is a time for them to feel validated,” Hunt said.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!