Western’s summer camp is full of STEAM

Middle school students learn there’s more to function

[  by Kinlee Whitney/WCU  ]

A new computer science and engineering camp at Western Colorado University has given middle school students a fresh twist on a technical field, while engaging the local community.

This summer, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering Lauren Cooper launched the first annual Rady STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) Camp. Middle school students in the Gunnison Valley spent a week learning about and experiencing how engineering and science can influence their world. The camp was held in the Paul M. Rady School of Computer Science and Engineering.

“The camp is an amazing opportunity for middle schoolers to be able to engage with the math, science, computer science, and engineering faculty, do some hands-on projects, and get the word out about what we’re doing here at Rady,” said Cooper. 

The camp activities consisted of everything from dam building to experiments exploring how burning soil might impact erosion. While the main focus of the camp consisted of engineering and science activities, there were plenty of other fun activities, including making jewelry, designing shoes and participating in a guided rock-climbing excursion to Hartman Rocks with Wilderness Pursuits.

Having a camp designed specifically for middle schoolers was important to the Rady team. Jennifer Blacklock, director of the Rady Program, said the team is dedicated to increasing the number of women in engineering and computer science for the partnership program. 

“I’m really active in engineering education and research shows that starting in middle school women specifically decide whether or not they can go into the STEM-related field,” said Blacklock.

After the success of the first camp, the Rady team hopes to expand the camp starting in summer 2023. The team plans to extend the length of the camp to several weeks and have campers be housed on campus. They also want to extend the recruitment of the camp beyond the Gunnison Valley, specifically geared towards women.

“I think in small communities especially, forming positive relationships is really important, so providing valuable opportunities for our community members is something that I’m going to strive for in my role here,” said Cooper. “I’d also love to see students from the Front Range and their families know about the program and see Western as a place where their kids can belong and get a great education.” 

Though Cooper planned the camp without a rigid idea of the specific outcomes, when she received feedback from the camper’s parents, she learned students received exactly what she intended. In an email, one of the parents said her child had already begun to experiment with items around the house: creating paper airplanes, launching them from different heights, and talking about the design process. 

“It wasn’t as important to me for students to come away from the camp with a thorough understanding of, say, plant transpiration rates. That wasn’t entirely the point,” said Cooper. “The point was for students to feel a greater sense of belonging in the fields of science and engineering. Students getting that spark of, ‘Oh, I have the power to create my world and to influence my world,’ is what I really hoped for. And I think we definitely achieved that.”

If you are interested in registering your child for the Summer 2023 camp, please email Cooper directly: lauren.cooper@colorado.edu

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