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3 Steps for Picking a STEM Summer Program

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Remember when your parents shipped you off to summer camp for three months of camping, outdoor activities and fun?

Those camps are still available; but today, students can choose summer programs focused on a particular interest. Many last only a week or two but focus on interests such as sports, the arts, and STEM careers. These camps are more than fun times away from home. They give students a chance to explore what they love.

STEM programs with an academic slant offer students a preview of their college major within the college experience and often provide the opportunity to earn some college credit. When it comes time to apply for college, the summer math or science program will look good on that college application. It communicates passion and initiative and it’s what admissions counselors love to see in a college applicant.

1. What types of summer STEM programs are available?

There are many programs to choose from: local, national and international.

You can also search on a specific college website for pre-college summer programs. Colleges offer STEM programs during the summer to high school students. These programs usually require an extensive application process, so start early if you’re interested in applying. Some programs can also be quite pricey; but the education and hands-on experience your student receives can also be priceless. The good news, however, is that many of the college-based programs offer scholarships.

2. How do you evaluate these programs?

Before sending your student to a summer program, it’s important to evaluate the program itself. The KD-Harman Foundation in Austin completed a study and designed an assessment with a defined standard that could be used to help evaluate the quality of a STEM summer program. Parents and students should ask these questions before choosing a program:

The learning environment

  • Is the classroom or facility safe for all students?

  • Do the teachers and staff have the proper training for their duties?

The program’s content

  • Are students engaged in project-based learning?

  • Are students practicing STEM methodology such as collecting data, building models, and making hypotheses?

The types of activities the students will be engaged in

  • Are the activities engaging, interesting and age-appropriate?

  • Does the instructor give a compelling presentation?

The youth development

  • Are students given time to reflect on activities?

  • Are students allowed to explore and be wrong?

Ask these questions of the program administrator before making the decision to apply.

3. What can your student expect from one of these programs?

Many programs give students the opportunity to live and study on a college campus while working on research programs and practical STEM applications. But there is more to these camps than just classes and lectures. The best camps incorporate field trips along with hands-on experience as part of their programs.

Summer STEM programs give students the chance to explore their interests and cement their possible college path. Not only will they be exposed to other students who have the same passion, but they will see what it’s like to live and study with experts in their particular area of interest. Annette M. Packard, Program Coordinator for the Women in Engineering summer program at the University of Dayton in Ohio, says, “One week of knowledge saves a lot of time and effort in the future when making choices about careers and colleges. Students who are not sure what they want to major in college, and even what colleges they are interested in – a camp is a great way to be exposed to both.”

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