Finding the F-U-N in STEM

Mines camp shows kids joy, opportunities in STEM fields

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/21/21

At most summer camps, there is no need for attendees to put on safety googles and a protective jacket for any of the activities. But the Full STEM Ahead camp held at Colorado School of Mines earlier …

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Finding the F-U-N in STEM

Mines camp shows kids joy, opportunities in STEM fields

Posted

At most summer camps, there is no need for attendees to put on safety googles and a protective jacket for any of the activities.

But the Full STEM Ahead camp held at Colorado School of Mines earlier this month isn’t like most other camps.

At this camp, attendees spent an hour pouring hot metal into molds to create their own jewelry (this is the activity requiring the googles and jacket) before heading off to spend some time programming computers.

But while those activities are not exactly typical, the camp’s organizers say what really makes it unusual are who its participants are: 20 incoming eighth grade girls from Alameda and D’Evelyn junior/senior high schools in Lakewood.

Carly Blaes, a Mines graduate who works for the technology company Nexus Controls that is co-sponsoring the camp and served as the camp’s director, said the purpose is to get teen girls excited about the field STEM fields and encourage them to consider those fields for possible careers.

“Statistically speaking, that age is when they tend to lose more interest in the STEM field so we want to make sure they see all the opportunities they have and just continue to be engaged in it,” Blaes said. “And we also want to make STEM fun.”

D’Evelyn student Eliot McSkimin said she was excited to take part in the camp because she loves science and math and hopes to someday become an engineer.

She said one of her favorite activities from the first day of camp had been practice suturing on bananas.

“I really like learning new things,” said McSkimin. “And I found I was really good at that one.”

When Colorado Community Media caught up with her on the second day of the three-day camp, she was also getting a big kick out of learning how to 3D print from advanced manufacturing program director Craig Brice.

“I liked learning about how there are so many things you can 3D print,” she said. “And I really liked seeing the examples in the lab.”

Mitchell Keeler, a CSM student of Brice’s who was helping campers 3D print their own keychain tags said he enjoyed helping with the camp and a similar one held for minority high school students because such camps provide a chance to show the kids what’s possible.

“I think that’s what this really does, it inspires kids to do crazier and cooler things,” he said, before noting that part of what drove him to Mines was a robotics competition that he had participated in on campus when he was younger.

Keeler also added that you only need to look at the ratio of male to female students at Mines to see the value of such a camp, which can be one catalyst for a more diverse student body.

“At Mines, it can be easy for everyone to think the same and it’s hard to find people who think differently,” he said. “But when you get a bunch of people who are different and from different backgrounds, you’ll see they can come up with some really cool solutions to problems.”

Annette Pilkington, the director of Mines’ program for Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering, said another value of the camp was for the girls to get to see women who are studying and learning on the Mines campus, as they did during the foundry activity.

“I think it’s great to show young girls role models with our students and our women engineers and graduates so they can see people doing interesting and valuable science and be inspired to go into the field themselves,” she said.

While the camp lasted only three days, the girls will also be able to stay involved through the Full STEM, Full Year program, which will allow them to participate in STEM-related activities throughout the school year. All camp graduates are also invited back to campus each year for day of activities tailored to their age. Every attendee is also invited back to the Mines campus each year for Alumni Day, where the girls get to participate in a full day of camp, tailored to their age.

“I had great parents and great teachers that helped steer me into thinking about the STEM field,” said Blaes. “But I definitely never got to come to a camp like this so I think it’s cool to be able to introduce the girls to this at a younger age, which is not something that was super prevalent back when I was their age.”

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