The snap of rubber bands accompanied the sound of ripping duct tape as Tarra Bench, 13, and Nickilah Addison, 12, worked out how to protect an egg from cracking when dropped from a high height.
“You need math to be able to do things,” Tarra, an aspiring mathematics teacher, explained as they attached balloons to a cup intended to shield their egg from impact. Nickilah, a future veterinarian, agreed.
They were surrounded by other like-minded middle school students from the Syracuse City School District at Le Moyne’s Quantitative Thinking Village, in which the students learn about a variety of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The camp is split into two one-week sessions; children who attended the camp last summer stay for both weeks. This year, approximately 75 students attended in total—nearly double the amount who participated in 2018.
Intensity crackled in the air as the campers watched the robots they programmed battle one another; brows furrowed in concentration as they learned how to code a computer game; and many fingers stuck together with glue as they built their own rockets.
The Quantitative Thinking Village is part of an initiative at Le Moyne called ERIE21, or Educating for our Rising Innovation Economy. It is intended to guide and support students in STEM fields all the way from middle school into the local workforce after college. ERIE21 is part of Le Moyne’s Always Forward Campaign, which emphasizes academic excellence and student support.
Pam Puri, camp director and founder of the educational service Tech4kidz, aims to expose the children to all different areas of STEM so that they can decide for themselves where their interests lie. Those interests can vary widely; for one camper, the chance to design and develop robots was exciting. For another, being able to learn the programming language Java was what truly intrigued them. And for some, the opportunity to stay on Le Moyne’s campus afforded them a glimpse into their future.
“I like feeling like you’re in college,” says Urguen Tamang, a rising 8th grader. For the duration of the camp, the students sleep in the College’s dorm buildings and eat meals in the dining hall. They also visit Le Moyne’s recreation center for activities such as swimming, in addition to visiting off-campus sites like the Museum of Science and Technology in Syracuse. And through challenges such as constructing mini-bridges with popsicle sticks or insulating an ice cube to prevent it from melting, the children are given the chance to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities in hands-on, practical ways.
Those skills are needed now more than ever. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts the rate of growth for STEM-related fields at about 13% between the years of 2012 and 2022, compared with an 11% rate of growth for all occupations. The goal is that by fostering an interest and appreciation in these subjects from an early age, these students will be better prepared to meet the needs of an increasingly tech-based economy.
As the children tested their egg-safety contraptions, cheered on their robots in the battle arena, or played through their completed video games, it became obvious that it was more than just code and robotics that were being built. They were building their confidence in their own abilities; they were building their passion for learning; but most importantly, they were building the future.