Last month, President Barack Obama hosted 100 student innovators from more than 40 states for the third annual White House Science Fair, celebrating student achievements in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. This year’s group of youths included app coders, algae growers, video game designers, city planners, roboticists, and rocket scientists.
After touring their exhibits, Obama congratulated the students on their impressive accomplishments and announced a number of new steps to advance his administration’s Educate to Innovate campaign to motivate more young people to excel in STEM subjects.
Among the new initiatives was the launch of more than 1,000 summer learning events, planned as part of a summer-long campaign “to help young people embrace the maker spirit and learn career-building STEM skills.”
Engaging and inspiring young people to pursue opportunities in STEM fields early is widely considered by experts as an important step in meeting the nation’s future innovation needs. What students learn outside the classroom can make just as large an impression as formal learning time.
That is why the newly announced learning events, along with STEM-centric summer camps and similar programs for youths, provide opportunities for STEM inspiration. Directories created by the Engineering Education Service Center and FindEngineeringSchools.org provide information on STEM summer camps.
“Hands-on science and engineering programs, competitions, and camps are wonderful introductions to STEM for students even as young as elementary grade,” Melissa Carl, a manager of government relations for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, said in a recent Q&A with IMT Career Journal. “Getting early experience, like the hands-on robotics or science camps and competitions, can motivate young people, especially girls and underrepresented minorities, to know their strengths, take the math and science courses that will advance their goals, and realize how much engineering can offer them.”
In the past, summer camp meant either time in the wilderness or on a sports field. Today, there are educational camps with themes from space exploration and aviation to robotics and invention. Most STEM-centric camps share some common goals:
- Entice young people to think like scientists and engineers
- Provide a fun, creative, hands-on learning experience
- Teach youth to experiment and overcome obstacles
- Build self-esteem and confidence
- Ultimately inspire youth to pursue careers in STEM fields.
“Summer camps are an effective way to pique the interest of young students in STEM,” according to John Lock, former CEO of Project Lead The Way (PLTW), a nonprofit provider of STEM curricular programs to middle schools and high schools across the U.S. “The younger they get hooked, the more likely they will stick with it during high school and college, which will help prepare them for success in today’s 21st century global economy.”
STEM Summer Camps Fill the Country
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., is one of the premier STEM educational programs in the U.S. But there are hundreds of programs that aim to engage youth in STEM knowledge and skills throughout the nation. Some of them are on a national level and others are locally based. Below is a small selection of STEM-related summer camps, ranging from those for pre-school children to those for high school students.
Utilizing hands-on learning principles of applied math, chemistry, and physics, the American Society of Materials’ one-week camps for high school students provide real-world experience in understanding the science of materials. Held at college campuses and other locations throughout the U.S., the camps are completely free for accepted participants.
Hosted at more than 1,200 schools and organizations nationwide each year, and managed and taught by local educators, the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s Camp Invention program inspires children to be curious about their world and prepares them for the future by exploring STEM concepts via hands-on, creative problem-solving activities.
Mainly targeting traditionally under-served and under-represented middle school students, these two-week residential STEM education camps have reached more than 7,000 kids from more than 3,400 schools since 2007. Hosted at colleges across the U.S., the camps offer promising students the opportunity to enhance their proficiency in STEM knowledge and skills, and, like ASM Materials Camp, are free for accepted participants.
Part of PLTW, the Gateway Academy summer day camp introduces sixth- to eighth-graders to drafting and graphic design. The program gives students hands-on projects and time with lab equipment in a team environment. Campers use advanced sketching and modeling software, build and race remote-controlled robots, and design, build, and test rockets using 3-D modeling software.
Hosted at more than 60 college campuses nationwide, iD Tech offers week-long summer tech camps for youths aged 7 to 17, as well as intensive two-week teen academies for students aged 13 to 18. Aiming to teach students “usable skills for the future,” the camps offer numerous courses in video game design, programming, 3-D modeling, robotics, graphic arts, web design, digital video editing, and more.
KinderCare offers six different summer programs for pre-school and school-age kids. Its STEM-themed camps cover such topics as architecture, archaeology, and general science. The Science Scouts-themed summer camp teaches young children how the world works through hands-on experiments in life science, earth science, and space science, as well as physics.
Camps Offer Industry Professionals Volunteer Opportunities
Summer camps offer numerous opportunities not just for kids but for adults and STEM industry professionals, as well. Many programs, including those listed above, welcome volunteers (if not summer employment).
Beyond altruism and personal growth, there are multiple professional benefits of volunteerism, including learning or developing new skills such as leadership, communication, networking, and coaching/teaching. Other benefits include apprenticing with other experts, learning more about career options, garnering new professional contacts, and gaining resume points.
“For example, your employer would be interested in the activities that give you a good work-life balance, just as academic institutions are interested in your extracurricular activities,” World Volunteer Web states. “Volunteering reflects and supports a complete picture of you, and gives real examples of your commitment, dedication, and interests.”
In fact, based on a TimeBank survey of leading businesses, 73 percent of employers would recruit a candidate with volunteer experience over one without.
For STEM industry professionals who could be camp or program volunteers, the following are three practical considerations to weigh as a means of getting started:
- Consider causes that are important to you, and look for a group or program that deals with issues you feel strongly about.
- Consider what expertise you can share with others, and look for a group or program in which your particular skills can be fully utilized.
- When you find a group or program that is in line with your interests and expertise, determine whether it offers training or professional development opportunities for its volunteers.
Whether it’s for personal or professional reasons — or both — volunteering your time and expertise this summer to a STEM camp or learning event will certainly help someone or some group. You might just inspire the next great innovator.