STEM camps prepare students for creative problem-solving, careers

STEM Career Exploration campers explore engineering concepts through hands-on activities like bridge-building.
STEM Career Exploration campers explore engineering concepts
through hands-on activities such as bridge-building.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Northern Illinois University’s STEM Outreach is hoping to help students answer that question by offering a variety of fun, hands-on summer camps that explore in-demand careers and concepts in science, technology, engineering and math.

STEM Outreach and other STEM departments host camps from June through August at NIU’s main campus in DeKalb and the field campus at Lorado Taft in Oregon, Ill. This year, in addition to popular camps like Engineering Amusement, they are adding a variety of new camp experiences.

Organizers say that as job opportunities in STEM fields continue to grow, they want to help students explore their talents and expand their interests.

“We want students to come in, have fun, get their hands dirty, learn from STEM professionals and get excited about pursuing STEM careers,” says Jeremy Benson, STEM Outreach Camp director.

In STEM Career Explorations, students in grades 10 through 12 now can choose among tracks in engineering, science, chemistry, video game design and health sciences.

More than 180 students have registered for STEM Outreach’s camps so far; parents should register their children as soon as possible to reserve their spaces in these popular camps.

New this year is STEM Read’s Crisis on Mars! camp (June 21-26). The camp, which is organized in conjunction with SMARTspace@NIU and STEM Outreach, presents high school students with a fresh challenge each day as they use Andy Weir’s best-selling novel “The Martian” to participate in engineering challenges and explore STEM concepts, art and design, and creative writing. Crisis on Mars! uses hands-on experiences to foster creative problem solving and is geared toward future scientists, artists, writers and sci-fi fans alike.

A camper in Engineering Amusement designs and constructs a model roller coaster.
Campers in Engineering Amusement design
and build model roller coaster.

“Whether you’re an artist or an astronaut, creativity will be important in your career,” says Mary Baker, coordinator of SMARTspace@NIU, “students don’t always get time to innovate and work collaboratively on open-ended problems during the school day. That’s where camps like ours come in.”

Baker will lead campers in creating space ship concept art and cinematic trailers to document their Martian adventures. The campers will use STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math) to explore Weir’s popular book.

Crisis on Mars! campers also will have the opportunity to Skype with author and computer engineer Weir, who is currently adapting “The Martian” as a major motion picture directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon. Early bird registration for this camp has been extended until Sunday, May 10.

Eagle’s Nest STEAM Camp is another new offering that blends art with STEM concepts. The camp gives young artists a chance to investigate new techniques in digital art, holography, electronic wearable art, scientific illustration, kinetic art,and more. The camp will be held at NIU’s Lorado Taft campus, a former artists’ colony.

Also new this year are camp experiences for teachers.

“Why should students have all the fun?” asks Kristin Brynteson, assistant director of NIU’s P-20 Center. “This summer we’ve created teacher professional development camps that will run parallel to the Exploring STEM and Crisis on Mars! camps.”

The teacher camps will follow a co-learning approach where teachers will learn alongside students during some of their STEM challenges, Brynteson says. Teachers also will have breakout and reflection sessions to plan for implementing STEAM lesson plans in their own classrooms.

The P-20 Center is offering a special discount for educators who submit recommendations for two or more students who register for camp. “We think it will be powerful for teachers to work with their students and to witness firsthand the impact that STEAM-based learning can have on young learners,” Brynteson says.

For information on summer camps from STEM Outreach, visit niu.edu/stem. For information on teacher professional development camps, visit niu.edu/p20.

Camp fun continues into the night with activities like making your own liquid nitrogen ice cream.
Camp fun continues into the night with activities
such as making your own liquid nitrogen ice cream.

STEM Summer Camps for Students

  • Crisis on Mars!: a residential camp for students entering grades 9-12. June 21-26
  • STEM Career Exploration Session 1 (choose science or Engineering): a residential camp for students entering grades 10-12. June 21-26
  • Green Energy: a day camp for students entering grades 6-8. June 21-27
  • Exploring STEM Week 1 (choose engineering, nature, EV3 Robotics-Space Challenge or art) a residential camp for students entering grades 7-9. July 5-10 at NIU’s Lorado Taft Campus
  • Engineering Summer Academy: a residential camp for students entering grades 9-12. July 5-10
  • Exploring STEM Week 2 (choose engineering, EV3 Robotics-Engineering Challenge or nature) a residential camp for students entering grades 7-9. July 12-17 at Lorado Taft
  • Eagle’s Nest STEAM Camp: a residential camp for students entering grades 9-12. July 12-17 at Lorado Taft
  • Nanotechnology: a residential camp for students entering grades 9-12. July 12-17
  • Exploring STEM Week 3 (choose chemistry, art, sports or EV3 Robotics-Engineering Challenge) a residential camp for students entering grades 7-9. July 19-24.
  • Engineering Amusement: a residential camp for students entering grades 5-7. July 26-31

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