Summer camp gets middle schoolers excited about STEM careers
More than three dozen rising seventh and eighth graders from underserved communities around South Carolina spent a week on campus at a summer camp designed to introduce them to careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
Project WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) is the product of a long-standing partnership between Clemson and Duke Energy, which has funded the camps since the early 1990s.
Amanda Dow, manager of the Duke Energy Foundation that sponsors the program, said it’s a partnership that makes sense for the company. “[The workforce of the future] must bring diverse perspectives to the table, and that’s why programs like this, that encourage young women to pursue careers in science and engineering, are so important,” she said.
Project WISE employs graduate and undergraduate STEM students as teachers and camp counselors. This provides a chance for participants to interact with adults who grew up under similar circumstances and are now thriving in the world of STEM.
Skyler Holland, a rising junior studying electrical engineering, was a camp counselor this year. She went through the WISE program herself when she was a middle school student in Farmville, South Carolina, and it changed her life.
“This camp is why I picked my major,” she said. “In the electrical engineering class my first year, we did little robot crabs that were solar-powered, and I loved it. Then the next year, we did this little solar-powered dinosaur, and I said, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.’”
Classes ranged from biosystems and mechanical engineering to chemistry and mathematics. Instructors incorporated hands-on learning that kept the students engaged.
In one session, participants learned to use a computer-aided design program to render a simple gearbox with their names embedded in the body. In another, students assembled model helicopters to learn the physics and engineering behind helicopter flight. The instructors used the project to teach the class about thrust, torque, gravity and gears as the dozens of small aircraft took shape in students’ hands.
Camp counselor Dajonia Jackson ’22 walked from desk to desk, observing and offering advice as the students assembled the pieces of their helicopters. Like Holland, she attended the program as a middle schooler.
“Project WISE provides a chance for participants to interact with adults who grew up under similar circumstances and are now thriving in the world of STEM.”
“When I was in seventh and eighth grade, I wanted to be a doctor or nurse. Nobody exposed me to engineering,” said Jackson. “The WISE summer camp was the first time I saw that I could be creative. When I was younger, having that exposure opened up a lot for me. It made me want to build things and inspire others, and that’s why I’m here.”
Associate director of WISE Beth Anne Johnson said Holland and Jackson are perfect examples of the program’s mission.
“Overall, I hope every young person who participates in our programs sees that they belong; that math, science and engineering are for everyone,” said Johnson. “We’re trying to send that message and plant that seed of belonging so that everyone’s future is brighter.”