At Texas A&M, Students Get Immersive Experience In STEM
On a recent summer afternoon, Cy-Fair High School Junior Morgan Miller and her four teammates huddled over a stuffed dog at their table. Using the toy as a reference, the girls got to work on the task at hand: building a tool to help pet owners easily bathe their dogs.
The girls attached pipe cleaners to a cloth they wrapped around the stuffed dog. The idea behind the pipe cleaners, Miller explained was to simulate hoses – the goal of their prototype was to reduce anxiety in pets that don’t enjoy baths. While Miller’s group worked on building a prototype, the rest of the team focused on preparing for their presentation. In true “Shark Tank” style, the team would go on to pitch their product, complete with a sales plan to “potential investors” as part of the Gaddis Girls’ STEM Camp at Texas A&M University.
The camp, held last month for middle and high school girls provided an immersive experience on a diverse range of topics. It’s one of several camps hosted on the College Station campus this summer for students and teachers looking to develop their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.
“I really want to get a career in the STEM field, so I’ve gone to a couple other camps just to see where in the STEM program I want to be,” Miller said. “Gaddis Girls is really focused on engineering, and so I’m figuring out this week if I want to pursue a career in engineering.”
Encouraging students like Miller to pursue a STEM education – and maybe become future Aggies – is among the goals of Aggie STEM.
Professor Robert M. Capraro, co-director of Aggie STEM, created the summer camps out of a desire to find a bigger purpose in his role as a Texas A&M faculty member. Initially focused on helping students with math skills, the camp offerings grew at the suggestion of former provost Karan Watson, Capraro said.
Created in 2006, Aggie STEM is a collaboration between Texas A&M’s College of Education & Human Development and College of Engineering. The project works with teachers and schools to provide students with professional development activities and summer camps in several subject areas. More camps this summer will be held for elementary and middle school students focusing on health, coding and other topics.
Each of the seven camp sessions throughout the summer is unique, Capraro said. They include both day camps and sessions lasting one to two weeks. Campers live on campus for the week, experience Aggie life and participate in lectures and hands-on activities.
Niyazi Erdogan, project coordinator and camp director for Aggie STEM, said classes are taught by faculty members, Ph.D. students and experienced teachers from around Texas.
“Students will start with a real-world problem. They’re then faced with constraints and they have to work with the materials they have at hand,” Erdogan said at the Gaddis Girls’ camp. “There have to be multiple ways of solving the problem.”
For example, Miller’s group brainstormed multiple ideas to solve a variety of problems, but ultimately settled on easing anxiety in pets and pet-owners by designing a bathing device that would make bath time easier on both parties.
Miller said the camp is an experience she recommends to other students looking to make new friends and learn about potential career paths.
“I really want to help people. I hope to learn if engineering is a logical career path for me,” she said. “It makes me feel motivated to know that there are women in STEM, not just a small population. It motivates me to keep going and know that I can do it too.”