More campers than ever before flocked to NIU STEM Camps for hands-on engagement with science, technology, engineering and math this summer. Between June and August, 458 students age 7-18 came from as nearby as Cortland and far away as China to roll up their sleeves, experiment and explore academic and professional fields, up from 324 campers in 2015.
“The level of participation and excitement this year was off the charts,” says STEM Camps Director Jeremy Benson. “As always, we had a lot of returning campers and a lot of first-timers who heard rave reviews from their friends. This year, we had parents fill out a survey, which revealed over half of our enrollment is due to positive word of mouth.”
Camps took place on NIU’s main campus and at the Lorado Taft Field Campus in Oregon, IL. They focused on subjects from robotics programming and video game design to wild biology and science-fiction. No matter the topic, the approach was “learning by doing.” Instead of memorizing facts or definitions from textbooks or lectures, students learned STEM concepts through the exciting trial-and-error process of developing their own projects and experiments.
For younger students, camp was a chance to learn how diverse and exciting the world of STEM can be, while also making new friends from around the world. For older students, camps also offered guidance for linking STEM passions to possible college majors and career paths.
“I discovered that nursing isn’t as overwhelming as I had previously thought,” says a participant in the health care track of STEM Career Explorations camp. Before this summer, she had written off nursing as a possible career. Now she is interested in shadowing a nurse in a hospital to learn more about the job––a possibility that she would not even be aware of were it not for her camp experience.
For many, camp was also a chance to get exposure to NIU’s campus and academic options. “I’m more enlightened about STEM careers in general, but also about what NIU has to offer,” says a high school junior who participated in the coding track of the Career Explorations camp.
One parent of a camper wrote in to report that her son loved camp so much that, while visiting colleges this fall, her son has been using NIU as the gold standard.
Nearly $5,000 in scholarships were awarded to 21 campers this year. Children of NIU faculty and staff also received discounts.
Twenty-six NIU students in STEM majors worked full-time as camp counselors, gaining experience as STEM educators. “It was truly the most rewarding opportunity I have ever been given,” says one counselor at the end of the summer. “These past few weeks have been a blast. I can’t wait for STEMfest (Oct. 8) and look forward to spending next summer with STEM summer camps!”