Reaching Out

During summer months, multiple STEM camps for various age groups took place daily in the Engineering Center.

Children at computers

Allia Kobus from Hart Middle School, Rochester, and Abigail Zanolli from Notre Dame Middle School, Pontiac, enjoy playing Minecraft with an educational component to each challenge.

Summer Camps

icon of a calendarDecember 20, 2023

icon of a pencilBy Arina Bokas

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While summer months are traditionally viewed as the time to relax and recharge, for SECS Outreach directors and counselors, they are the busiest ones of the year. Hundreds of K-12 students annually attend SECS-sponsored STEM camps between June and August to explore their interest in science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics. Summer 2023 is no exception, with multiple STEM camps for various age groups taking place daily in the Engineering Center.

Minecraft Basic is among the most popular summer camps. The camp is designed for students familiar with the game, who spend each day playing Minecraft, but with an educational component to each challenge.

“This camp is not just about building; we learn about digital safety, the internet, and artificial intelligence,” says Allia Kobus, sixth grade student from Hart Middle School in Rochester. Abigail Zanolli, a seventh grader from Notre Dame Middle School in Pontiac, credits the camps with boosting her creativity. “I always enjoyed playing Minecraft, but I really didn’t know how to build. My mom found this camp to help me better understand the building process. But more than just building, this camp helps me become creative because now I can use my creative skills to build what I really want,” she says.

In addition to day camps, during July 2023, the School of Engineering and Computer Science hosted a Girls in Engineering Academy (GEA) residential camp facilitated by the Engineering Society of Detroit (ESD). The four-week-long residential camp is a result of an ongoing partnership between Oakland University and ESD — the creator of GEA — that aims to decrease the gender and minority gaps in engineering professions through exposing girls, particularly girls of color, to STEM with the hope that they will eventually pursue engineering careers.

For the last four years, every other Saturday, October through May, OU has been providing courses to participants of the GEA program for three-hour sessions. Sessions included math and science enrichment, engineering and computer science concepts, Language Arts comprehension, project-based STEM activities, mentoring, and engineering career exploration.

“GEA encourages middle and high school girls to embrace their interest in engineering through STEM exploration. We have been working with these girls on Saturdays since they were in sixth grade,” says Bianca Bryant, SECS Outreach assistant director. “Now as they are transitioning to tenth grade, we are very happy to welcome them for four weeks on campus.”

The summer residential camp engages girls over a four-week period, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday. This is a college immersive experience that gives them an opportunity to sample what OU campus has to offer — from eating in the residential dining commons and learning in lecture halls and college labs to attending the OU Recreational Center and partaking in group activities.

Dakota R., one of the camp participants, is interested in pursuing an education in bioengineering. “I am interested in designing prosthetics, and this program allows me to develop critical thinking skills and deepen of my understanding of the engineering fields,” she shares.

Her fellow camper, Kelsey H., also interested in the medical side of engineering, agrees, “I now have a very good understanding of what engineers do. So far, Oakland University has been a great experience. We like the campus and the activities we are offered here.”

SECS Dean Louay Chamra, who is serving on the ESD Board of Directors, emphasizes the importance of this partnership. “We support GEA as a unique program that is focused not only on engineering, but on the whole child. It empowers participants, traditionally marginalized in STEM fields, to live their best lives. SECS offers scholarships to all program graduates with a GPA of 3.0 and above, who qualify for Pell grants and choose OU to continue their engineering education,” he says.

In August, a new completely sold-out Augmented Reality camp brought to Oakland University another cohort of middle school students, eager to create both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) environments. Participants gained an understanding of VR vs. AR reality and learned about the differences in their programming, demonstrating concepts through building educational environments.

Aishani Das, an eighth grader from Rochester Hills and aspiring game designer, found the camp very helpful in learning how to create games in VR. “I would like to make my own game app, and designing in VR allowed me to better understand the process,” she says. “In addition, I really liked an opportunity to test my design in OU’s Augmented Reality Center.”

Considering the importance of STEM education at an early age, children as young as five years old had an opportunity to experience SECS camps. Throughout the summer, SECS offered multiple sessions to kindergarten through second-grade students, which proved to be not only successful but also in high demand. More exciting opportunities for younger and older campers to experience OU STEM activities are being planned for next year.

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