Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

SciCamp: The next generation

Future scientists, engineers visit NIU campus

June 29, 2009

by Tom Parisi

SciCamp Discovery participants learn about heat energy and energy transfer by making ice cream using liquid nitrogen.

The next generation of scientists visited campus this past week, building water-powered rockets, assembling model roller coasters, making solar ovens, constructing wind turbines and experimenting with miniature fuel cell cars.

Oh, and, they also enjoyed ice cream that they made themselves – using liquid nitrogen.

NIU played host to about 20 students enrolled in two separate SciCamp groups. SciCamp Discovery was geared for students entering the sixth and seventh grades; SciCamp Exploration included students entering eighth grade and high school.

“Our aim is to get kids excited about science and to expose them to scientific activities that they wouldn’t normally receive in a classroom,” says Pati Sievert, camp director and NIU’s outreach coordinator for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

NIU has been hosting science and engineering-related camps for elementary, middle and high school students since 2002. About 200 students are attending one of six different camps this summer.

“It’s especially rewarding to see kids get excited about things they didn’t even know were related to science,” Sievert says. “At our SciCamps, they also develop good friendships with other students who have similar interests.”

Studies have found that students pursuing STEM-related careers need to be better prepared for college, and oftentimes teachers themselves are in need of further professional development. Last year, NIU Outreach consolidated and began managing university-wide STEM Outreach programs, which include professional development opportunities for teachers and efforts to introduce young people to emerging scientific fields.

The goal is to engage young students in science, math and engineering and raise awareness among teachers, parents and community members about the importance of nurturing these skills.