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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Combining fun, learning with Aggie STEM’s summer camps

Photo courtesy of Aggie STEM

Students work together to build circuit boards at the Aggie STEM “Advancing into STEM Camp.”

Make sure to pack your sunscreen and bug spray — summer weather has officially hit Texas. As students begin their summer break, Aggie STEM hopes to provide them with an educational and exciting summer while also teaching what it means to be an Aggie. 

Aggie STEM is a collaborative effort from both the College of Education and Development and the College of Engineering that is dedicated to providing tools to help students and educators advance in disciplines science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. From June 6 to July 23, Aggie STEM will be holding Monday through Friday summer camps for students in elementary, middle or high school and teachers looking to develop their STEM skills.

During these camps, Aggie STEM hopes to develop a love for all things STEM and Aggie related, with the goal of campers becoming future Texas A&M students. Registration is currently closed, but a waitlist can be found by visiting the Aggie STEM website.

Robert M. Capraro, Ph.D., is the Aggie STEM co-director and said he created the summer camps in 2001.  

“I wanted to continue [teaching math] with kids but there wasn’t space for that at A&M, so I created my own space by having a summer math camp, which was focused on kids who had math learning problems,” Robert said. “It slowly evolved into a STEM camp as the years went by. As more and more people became engaged, they brought their expertise and their passion. It evolved with the faculty and the grad students who were involved in[to] what we now have as Aggie STEM summer camp.”

Kids who come to camp will be immersed in STEM activities while also gaining a taste of Aggie life, Robert said.  

“When we do the orientation, instead of saying, ‘Welcome to Aggieland,’ I say to all of them, ‘Welcome home,’” Robert said. “For the Aggies in the room, they know what I mean. They gave us a happy, healthy child, and we promise to give them back a happy, healthy child, just a whole lot more Aggie-fied.”
Six of the camp counselors at the Aggie STEM summer camps were once campers themselves, Robert said, and they hope to continue a legacy of encouraging opportunities for underrepresented campers. 

“Our female count is now almost even with males,” Capraro said, “And we have $100,000 in grant funds this year in order to bring kids who couldn’t afford to come. Forty percent of our kids who were coming to camp will be here because of a scholarship. They are incredibly high achieving kids, they just don’t have the money to come.”

Mary M. Capraro, Ph.D., is a professor of mathematics education at A&M and works alongside Robert for the summer camps to inspire a love of math in both undergraduates and school-level students.

“Students come to the classroom with the fear of mathematics and it’s always the last subject that they want to take,” Mary said. “I taught a problem solving class with undergraduates last semester, and the students said that now they really like mathematics. Maybe because they see the love of math in me and they see that I don’t fear it.”

For Mary’s class, she said students will adopt a rainforest theme and have the opportunity to design their own mini-cranes. 

“They’ll be designing a crane because, in order to study the canopy of the rainforest the researchers need a crane to be able to go up,” Mary said. “They will design a prototype of their crane and then compete to see who lifts up the most pennies.”

Miriam Sanders, extracurricular activities director and previous camp counselor for Aggie STEM, said she is excited for the social activities planned for the kids for their free time.

“After they’ve heard from STEM experts and participated in activities using project-based learning during the day, they may be a little bit tired, but we have lots of social things for them,” Sanders said. “We have game night, karaoke night and a pool night.” 

Other activities the campers will be participating in include Aggieland Safari, seeing the new Jurassic World movie, getting Aggie swag from C.C. Creations and Layne’s chicken tenders, Sanders said.

“We’re going to do a lot of academic things but it’s also [adapting] them into A&M culture,” Sanders said. “We want to share iconic things that are true to the nature of College Station with the activities that we do.”

Niyazi Erdogan, Ph.D., is both the program coordinator and camp director at Aggie STEM, but said he started his journey as a camp counselor in 2010. Erdogan said there are 17 residential camps, which include the teacher bootcamps, and seven day camps for students in the community.

“Some of our camps have specific focuses,” Erdogan said. “For example, we have a camp called ‘Immersing Into STEM 2,’ and it has a focus on biomedical sciences. We have another camp only for local students. It’s called Process Valley and, for the Brazos Valley Camp, we have a huge discount so that we can show how we appreciate our local people.”

The teacher bootcamps bring teachers from all over Texas, Erdogan said, and there is a special camp to teach them Python, a coding language. 

In the future, Erdogan said Aggie STEM wants to continue their outreach by increasing the number of students they are able to bring each summer.

“The first camp that I was involved in, there were 50 students,” Erdogan said. “Now, we have 509 students. We would like to continue to grow, but it is limited by our capacity. Still, we’d like to attract more students in the future.”

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