The young inventors scanned the materials before them – tape, newspaper, cardboard and scissors. Their task? To create a table capable of bearing the weight of as many textbooks as possible using only those implements – and their imaginations. The engineers – all seventh- and eighth-graders from the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) – were up to the challenge. In groups of two, they dove into their work, collaborating, designing, measuring, cutting, building and, finally, testing.
These tech-minded Generation Z-ers arrived on the Heights in the peak of the summer to take part in the Quantitative Thinking Village, an innovative partnership between Le Moyne and the SCSD with math education at its core. The students spent a week on campus learning about a range of subjects, including hardware, software and robotics. While many of their peers were lounging and playing video games, campers like 12-year-old Amelia Grimshaw were creating them. (That project in particular drew an enthusiastic “I love engineering!” from Amelia and several of her friends.)
Over the course of the camp, the students took a trip to the Museum of Science and Technology; visited a group of entrepreneurs working with the venture accelerator StartFast to launch their businesses; and participated in a “shark tank” in which they presented their own ideas. The campers also faced a variety of challenges, from taking on the role of bioengineers working to prevent a deadly pandemic to addressing a mysterious computer coding problem. Like professionals working in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (commonly known as STEM), they had limited time and resources with which to work. However, constraints like those can often spark great energy and creativity, particularly in children at this stage of their development.
“Middle school is precisely the time to nurture children’s interest in math, because is teaches them not to be intimidated by it,” said Pam Puri, camp director and founder of the educational service Tech4kidz. “Then they can use that confidence to come up great ideas, test them and pitch them. That’s the goal.”
Deborah Cady Melzer, Ph.D., vice president for student development at Le Moyne, and Robert Leslie, director of career and technical education for the SCSD, hope that the partnership between their institutions will lead to an influx of talented individuals into the STEM field at a time when they are urgently needed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are approximately 8.6 million STEM jobs in the United States, representing 6.2 percent of the nation’s employment. Employment in computer occupations is projected to increase by 12.5 percent from 2014 to 2024. In that same period, the number of jobs for environmental and biomedical engineers is expected to grow by 12.4 and 23.1 percent respectively.
“As a Jesuit college and a proud member of the Syracuse community, we are honored to work with the city’s school district to create programs that prepare children to enter the 21st century workforce,” Cady Melzer said. “Our aim is not only to enhance their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, but also to ramp up their excitement for math and where it has the potential to take them.”
Just a few days into the camp, at least one child was thinking about the role math and science will play in her future. As she prepared to move from a lesson on engineering to one on computer science, Amelia wondered how she could create greener packaging for soda and juice so that it doesn’t pollute the earth, particularly its oceans.
“It’s not just about inventing things,” she said. “It’s about benefiting the entire world.”
Programs for High School Students,
QRC at Le Moyne