‘It’s huge’: STEM camp links kids, technology

Published 11:08 am Friday, June 22, 2018

By Lorenzo Salinas



LED lights flashed, mechanical servos whirred and children gossiped and laughed as they huddled around computers to program the latest directions in which their robots would go.

The Second Annual Camp Stemulate was finishing its second week on the campus of Lamar State College Port Arthur. The camp is geared toward middle-school students who have an interest in robotics, programming or any other science-based endeavor.

The “STEM” in Stemulate stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The camp featured field trips, lodgings and meals for kids, as well as the opportunity to get some hands-on time with technology not normally available to them.

One of the Lego EV3 robots is being put through its paces on the makeshift race track on the second floor at the Carl Parker Center in Port Arthur. (Lorenzo Salinas/The News)

Tech-based education

“Girls are building and programming Lego EV3 robots; they’re designing their first apps; they’re making designs for the 3D printer; and they’re working circuits,” Sonia Jordan, camp instructor, said.

Jordan is also the program director with Kids Xplore in Houston, an organization intended to provide kids with similar opportunities in science and technology.

The long list of projects available to students would be coupled with other tech-based works like pixel art and 3D pens.

Jordan mentioned how many of the camp’s features were designed around team-building activities, in a bid to better coordinate students’ efforts.

“These programs expose girls to real-life applications such as practicing tech skills, working demonstrations and encouraging them to start a career path.” Terri Gordon, assistant director, said.

Gordon listed takeaways like debugging, problem solving and getting to explore a world of technology as just some of the benefits students participating in the courses could get.

“Then they could see themselves as entrepreneurs, and get to engage in a community through work,” she said.

Both Jordan and Gordon emphasized the importance of female representation in the fields of science and technology, which has historically been less in number than men. Thus, by getting young girls interested in STEM fields, more women would likely enter the field.

“That’s why it’s so vital,” Jordan said.


Sponsors make it happen

Funding for the camp came in the form of sponsorship from several organizations and businesses, including the international organization Save the Children.

“It’s huge!” camp director Shannon Freeman said.

She highlighted the importance of an organization like Save the Children being involved with Camp Stemulate. The organization, along with several other sponsors like Motiva, made the camp possible and even paid the children’s way into the program.

The cost of attendance, which includes rooms and meals, adds up to $1,250 per child. The only cost each child (or parent) had to pay was an admission fee of $60.

The camp drew 35 boys and 36 girls, similar numbers to last year’s 36 and 44, respectively.

Camp instructor Sonia Jordan (blue) helps one of her students with the 3D pen Thursday at the Carl Parker Center in Port Arthur. (Lorenzo Salinas/The News)

All about who you know

Freeman stressed the networking opportunities the camp provided, almost as a byproduct.

Relating an earlier account, Freeman said she was having a conversation with Motiva spokeswoman Verna Rutherford when one of the students came up to them and declared: “I would really like to start a robot company at my school.”

According to Freeman, that statement really resonated with Rutherford.

“Verna asked him, ‘I want to know your name,’” Freeman said. “That’s the kind of thing that matters when you get older and are looking for work in the professional world.”

Freeman said that same kid might be remembered when he would go to a job interview or apply for a position where Rutherford would work.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing: Meeting business leaders and leaders in the community,” she said. “It opens doors for them.”

Freeman mentioned the mixer toward the end of each week as another opportunity for the children to meet some of their sponsors and to be recognized for their work.

The mixer, one for the boys and one for the girls, took place at the Museum of the Gulf Coast, which was a venue Freeman said held special import for both the kids and for the summer camp.

“The boys were engaged when they went there and saw all the famous people who came from our area,” Freeman said. “And we told them that one day it could be them in that museum — that it could be you we’re celebrating and that it could be you celebrated in the museum.”

Freeman said she wanted the kids to know that their potential was unlimited and that they could do anything if they put their minds to it.

Students in the second annual Camp Stemulate gather around the computer to work on some programming at the Carl Parker Center in Port Arthur. (Lorenzo Salinas/The News)

Programming and fun

The students present seemed happy and engaged with the work they were doing.

Anyla, 12, was sitting on the floor with a laptop; she was working on programming for one of the robots.

She said her favorite part of the camp was working with the 3D pens and learning how to program robots.

“My school gave me the papers for it and I decided to sign up,” she said.

Anyla is a Sabine Pass student who is about to enter Thomas Jefferson Middle School next school year.

Next to her, fellow Sabine Pass classmates Brianna and Kylie were working on their own projects.

Each said making pixel art was the high points of the camp for them, while each appreciated learning how to program robots.

Brianna is about to enter the Port Neches-Groves school district next year and Kylie was going to continue in Sabine Pass.

While neither immediately had a future career in tech in mind when asked what they wanted to do, each still had lofty aspirations.

Kylie said she wanted to be a pediatrician and Brianna said she either wanted to be a lawyer or soccer player when she grows up.