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NMSU STEM Outreach Center expands summer camps and locations

After the fairy godmother?s work is complete, how does Cinderella get to the ball? Designing and building a way to the ball is one of the challenges students have in the Artistic Engineering summer camp offered through New Mexico State University.

Two young girls use gummy worms in a computer project.
Two students in the Makey Makey summer camp at New Mexico State University used gummy worms in a computer project. More than 1,300 students participated in NMSU?s STEM Outreach Center summer camps in 2014. (Courtesy photo)

The STEM Outreach Center in NMSU?s College of Education expanded the number of summer camps and locations in 2014. The STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) summer camps were available for the first time in Albuquerque and Truth or Consequences, and more camps were offered in Las Cruces and Gadsden Independent School District.

The STEM summer camps are typically week-long, half-day sessions, which are free to the students, with 1,323 children participating in 2014.

?Summer camps give students a real project-based, problem-solving, inquiry-based approach to the STEM fields,? said Susan Brown, NMSU STEM Outreach director. ?It?s so very important because we want kids to be excited about STEM. We must. We are in a crisis situation nationally, internationally and statewide.?

The summer camps expanded to Truth or Consequences and Albuquerque after school representatives attended a 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) regional conference NMSU hosted in early May. They have plans for camps in Deming, in spring or summer 2015.

?Being that it?s the number one job opportunity right now, our districts were so interested and jumped on board,? said Cristina Abeyta, NMSU STEM Outreach Center 21st CCLC program coordinator.

After the agreements were finalized, the NMSU STEM Outreach Center hosted a professional development workshop to prepare teachers and administrators before the camps began in June. While the school districts paid for camp supplies, the NMSU STEM Outreach Center staff worked during their free time to have the camps ready by June at the new locations.

The NMSU STEM Outreach Center also provides the 21st Century After-School Program during the academic year. In the 14-year history of the Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) program, more than 29,000 children have participated. Currently, SEMAA is in all middle and elementary schools in the Gadsden and Las Cruces Public School districts, and four schools in Albuquerque started the program in mid-February.

?Our after-school program is not baby-sitting, it is not workbook sheets, it?s a truly engaging program,? Brown said. ?It?s enriching their STEM knowledge base. I think that?s why when the teachers were engaged here at the conference, we had them involved in the workshop. The people from Truth or Consequences and Albuquerque were involved and they had that ?aha, wow? moment, and they said they want that for their kids too.?

This summer, 10 summer camps were offered for Las Cruces students, nine for Gadsden students, four for Albuquerque students while the camps in Truth or Consequences were facilitated by the Boys and Girls Club there for the entire summer. In the Gadsden schools, the summer camps were available to children as young as kindergarten for the first time.

?We all believe in STEM and the importance of STEM and art and all the subjects because you can?t teach science without math and history and art and all of those things,? Brown said.

Local schoolteachers teach the summer camps, and the NMSU STEM Outreach Center handles all of the logistics, coordinating and curriculum for the programs, plus the professional development for the summer camp instructors.

Two of the most popular camps are robotics camps. The WeDo Robotics camp is for students who have completed the fifth grade, and the EV3 Robotics camp is for students in sixth through eighth grades. Both camps are Lego based.

?We always try to change it up with new camps every year,? said Ashley Burns, Readers Theater coordinator. ?This year we had a really successful camp called the Makey Makey camp. That?s a brand-new technology out of MIT.

?They were very innovative in that camp,? Burns said. ?They loved it because they got to explore. There was the general idea of making a game controller, but they had to figure it out and how it was going to look and how it was going to function. That was a great camp.?

In the Gadsden schools, a new camp called On the Go!! Sports with Digital Media was very successful. The camp promoted health habits and involved hands-on engineering activities.

?Little did the children know, by playing they were doing all of these other STEM activities,? Abeyta said.

Because of the success of the summer camp, On the Go!! Sports with Digital Media will become an after-school program.

?We consistently are throwing the most upcoming technologies into our curriculum,? Abeyta said. ?Every summer we get to see what worked and what didn?t. If it works you will see it in the academic year, and if it doesn?t we will try and make it better for them.?

For more information on the NMSU STEM Outreach Center, visit www.stem.education.nmsu.edu.