NIU students mentor Chicago youth during summer camp

Dwayne Wilson, a graduate student in mechanical engineering
Dwayne Wilson, a graduate student in mechanical engineering

Solomon Mason proved you’re never too old to go to summer camp.

The senior mechanical engineering major joined fellow NIU students Dwayne Wilson, David Duncan, Nkem Ekhator, Sheriff Otun, Victor Aghadi and Stella Aghadi from July 5 to July 24 at The Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) program held at Miles Davis Magnet Academy in Chicago.

“SEEK is a National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) run program that targets the underrepresented demographics in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),” said Mason, of Aurora. “It’s important because it adheres to the systemic disproportion of African Americans in the STEM fields.”

According to the NSBE website, SEEK is designed to be a fun and engaging educational experience for students in third- through eighth-grade. Led by college engineering students and technical professionals, students work in teams, using their knowledge to solve problems and create products while discovering the underlying math and science principles involved.

During the free three-week program, teams take on a new project each week which culminates with a presentation, design competition and physical competitions that all parents are encouraged to attend.

“We create a fun and encouraging atmosphere where elementary school children get to learn about engineering and science,” Mason said. “This is the important age range where students start to form their opinions on math and science, which can positively or negatively affect their academic performance throughout their education.”

Sheriff Otun, a graduate student in biochemistry
Sheriff Otun, a graduate student in biochemistry

Since starting in 2007 in Washington, D.C., SEEK has served more than 3,500 students in 14 cities across the United States. Mason became a mentor last year after hearing about it at an NSBE convention, and returned to camp in 2015 as an administrator.

“I had the privilege of being brought back this year to work in an administration position, where I served as the camp’s operations coordinator,” he said. “I managed camp curriculum, mentor training, competition structure and the parent committee. I had a great experience and developed imperative project management skills that will assist me in industry.”

For both students and volunteers, it was a summer camp experience they will never forget.

“Inspiring young people in terms of their education and careers is very important to the sustainability of our workforce and competition in our global economy,” Mason said. “The experience can significantly impact their perception of school and ultimately their choice to pursue college and field of study. It’s vital for us to give back, encouraging and inspiring young people to reach their full potential.”

by Jane Donahue

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