NIU summer campers develop confidence and explore career pathways

Many of us remember summer camp as a time of freedom and fun. Camp is that, but it is also much more for the nearly 5,000 campers who enroll in NIU summer camps each year. NIU camps offer young people a chance to gain independence and confidence, as well as to explore career fields and develop skills and mindsets that will help them in their academic and career paths.

Students in STEM Engineering Camp construct a trebuchet.

This year, NIU is offering more than 80 different summer camps on topics ranging from screenwriting to soccer, from STEM to Spanish. With options in science and technology, visual arts, music performance, theater, writing and communication, TV and radio broadcasting, and sports, every young learner will find exciting possibilities.

Aspiring writers, filmmakers and other creative students will be particularly interested in this year’s academic camps offered by NIU External Programs. In addition to perennial favorites such as Creative Writing Camp, new camps focus on language, culture and communication, including Spanish Immersion Camp, Screenwriting Camp, Comedy Writing and Performance Camp, and more.

“Students will have a chance for hands-on experience with creative career fields, such as creating live-to-tape radio podcasts with WNIJ Host/Producer Carl Nelson or producing online journalism with Northern Star advisor Shelley Hendricks,” says camp coordinator Lise Schlosser.

Students at NIU Percussion Camp.

For aspiring musicians, actors and visual artists, NIU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts is again offering residential camps that help students polish their art through intensive, daily practice guided by experts. These camps provide students a chance to hone the creative mindset necessary for today’s constantly changing economy.

“Every day you can read about how the arts and liberal arts education are what employers are really looking for,” says Paul Kassel, dean of NIU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. “But our country doesn’t value the arts except in the most basic ways—and it’s always the first thing to go during budget problems. So, more and more students come to college with their imaginations atrophied from lack of use. Creativity can happen in any subject area, of course, but the arts specifically work on the imaginary ‘muscles’—THAT’s where innovation happens. If you can’t imagine a better future, it surely will not come.”

Students with a passion for science, technology, engineering and math can choose from a variety of STEM-related camps. STEM Career Explorations camps, in particular, give high school students the chance to experience career fields such as computer coding, engineering, health sciences, and 3-D design and manufacturing.

Students in a STEM Camp learning to solder.

According to NIU STEM camp director Jeremy Benson, “The students get to learn from professionals in these fields, who are happy to share their experiences and advice, as well as meet NIU students pursuing similar goals as themselves. This is an excellent chance for the students to learn more about the career options available to them, and to take a behind-the-scenes look at some of their favorites.”

Other camps that offer a window into specific career fields include Video Game Design Camps offered by NIU’s Digital Convergence Lab and the new Fashion Studio Camp for high school students offered by the College of Health and Human Sciences. These camps provide hands-on experience with the tools and skills used by professionals in the fields.

NIU’s Summer Athletic Training Workshop is one of more than a dozen camps offered by NIU Athletics, and it has been providing a similar professional focus for 35 years. Through panel discussions with professional athletic trainers, CPR/AED training and hands-on practice with taping, rehab and injury evaluation, campers gain exposure to the field of sports medicine.

Phil Voorhis, NIU assistant director for sports medicine and athletic training and the camp’s director, says, “We have a unique partnership with Dr. Daniel Olsen, who directs the anatomy laboratory for NIU’s Department of Biological Sciences. In the morning, the students focus on the lower or upper extremities, learning about injuries, rehab and taping skills. Then in the afternoon, the students have a chance to look at the lower or upper extremities in the cadaver lab.”

While such windows into career fields open up exciting possibilities for campers, perhaps even more important are the ways camps empower students to think critically and creatively and persevere in the face of challenges.

In the words of NIU STEM camp director Jeremy Benson, “My biggest motivator is to do whatever I can to help dispel the myth that only certain people can understand science.” He continues, “I think it’s important to show students that science is more than just a collection of facts. It’s a way of looking at and attempting to understand the world around us. Regardless of what job you may have or want, knowing how to find the answers to our questions, and use our knowledge to solve problems, is an important life skill for every single human being.”

To facilitate registration, NIU is offering a searchable list of camps in one convenient location at Most camps offer discounts to the children of NIU employees, families sending more than one camper or students enrolled in multiple camps. Merit- and need-based scholarships are also available.

With questions about summer camp registration, parents may contact Sara Finnigan at






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