STEM summer camps could be career-builders

June 02, 2015 / by / 0 Comment

Story by Michael Ferraresi
Photos by Steven Niedzielski
GCU News Bureau

Through solar-powered ovens, 3-D printers and other high-tech learning tools, students in Grand Canyon University’s STEM summer camps this month will be able to feel the power of science and engineering at their fingertips.

Based on the same project-based learning principles that are in place in its undergraduate programs, the University developed the series of intensive events for local middle and high school students to provide a taste of a collegiate STEM curriculum in an easy-to-digest format that gets young people excited about their potential career pathways. (Admission is $500, including meals and housing, and there’s a 10 percent discount for GCU faculty, staff and alumni, in addition to students from GCU partner schools. Click HERE for information and to register.)

STEM summer camps

GCU’s STEM summer camps open Monday, following up on the hands-on STEM Saturdays experiences the University offered to local K-12 students during the school year.

For many participants, especially those whose parents and siblings are not working in science or engineering disciplines, it could be their first camp experience — or the single experience that solidifies their STEM focus for college.

Students will learn basic code for a mobile application, computer programming through Raspberry Pi and Arduino boards, and the essentials of robotics. The camp’s certified teachers, who come from GCU partner schools around the Valley, also will challenge students to use those resources to create a basic business plan to solve a problem, among other exercises designed to address real-world issues.

“That model of presenting a problem and giving the students room to explore how to solve it through hands-on activities helps break away from that traditional recipe version of science curriculum,” said Amanda Hughens, GCU’s K-12 STEM outreach manager.

Hughens, who came to the University with nearly 20 years of experience in K-12 education, including teaching science to middle and high school students, added that the camps are designed to demonstrate the basic science and technology training that students need in college to build the foundation for earning jobs in computer science, information technology, biomedicine, engineering and other related fields.

“It’s showing them what’s around them,” she said. “It’s making them aware and giving them a new look at how to utilize computers and engineering in their lives.”

More than 40 high school students are enrolled in the first four-day camp, which begins Monday on campus. On Monday, June 15, a cohort of middle school students begins its camp, and the Girls in STEM camp, which is geared toward middle and high school girls, begins Monday, June 22.

Visiting students stay in campus residence halls and experience life at GCU. The sessions also include daily games, movies and time in campus swimming pools to keep things fun, and each camp ends with a showcase for students to present their work to their peers and parents.

Hughens said GCU wanted to develop a program exclusively for science-minded girls to help them recognize that high-tech and engineering fields are not reserved for men. That group will take a field trip to a local cosmetics manufacturing plant to see how engineers produce beauty products for women, and students will have the opportunity to develop their own cosmetics.

The STEM summer camps are designed around the project-based learning principles in place in GCU's undergraduate programs for engineering, information technology, computer science and other science fields. (Photo by Steven Niedzielski)

The STEM summer camps are designed around the project-based learning principles in place in GCU’s undergraduate programs for engineering, information technology, computer science and other related fields.

Students also will use mathematics in nearly everything they do at the camps.

“We’ll have a heavy math focus, but on applied math,” Hughens said. “They’ll be able to test things, but they’ll test them in a measurable way where we can help them see what they’ve accomplished.”

GCU launched its bachelor’s degree programs in computer science and information technology last fall, and the first students in its three engineering programs — in the biomedical, electrical and mechanical emphases — arrive on campus this fall.

Kyle Russell, who recently transitioned from teaching language arts to Spanish at Sandra Day O’Connor High School, said he would be teaching rapid prototyping and helping students with a 3-D printer at the first two STEM summer camps. GCU staff sought him out because for 20 years he ran a company specializing in replica props printing for costumes, displays and other items for the film industry.

Sessions for students will include a mix of STEM-focused teachers and others with specific backgrounds in related industries, though all are top teachers at their schools.

What used to take Russell weeks, if not months, to produce as a small business owner can now be produced in hours with a 3-D printer, like the one students will practice on at GCU’s camps. But Russell, who certainly is familiar with the Internet generation, said he won’t expect too many students to be wowed by that — teens simply want to learn how to use the technology to put their ideas in motion.

“It doesn’t blow their minds the way it does mine,” Russell said of the new Airwolf 3-D printer he will use with STEM summer camp students. “I owned a company for 20 years and worked with my hands, dreaming of something like this.”

Plus, workshops like his encourage students to generate marketing plans for the solutions they develop. Russell added that while students work with him on building computer-generated physical models and props, they’ll jump quickly into other topics in the four-day “shotgun” format.

Dr. Tacy Ashby, GCU’s senior vice president of GCU’s Strategic Educational Alliances, said the University rolled out STEM summer camps after hosting its STEM Saturdays learning events for K-12 students in the 2014-15 school year.

“It’s just a deeper, richer experience than what we’ve provided during the year,” Ashby said of the STEM summer camps, which provide discounts to students of GCU Strategic Educational Alliances schools.

“The camps will have such a nice feel,” she said. “Grand Canyon provides that intimacy of environment with its classroom experience, but also with everything going on outside around the University campus.”

Ashby said some students have received scholarships through sponsorships. As GCU grows its own undergraduate STEM programs, she said, events of this nature will help families understand their educational options to cultivate an engineering and high-tech mindset in their children. 

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 602-639-7030 or [email protected].

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