Two years ago, Dr. Eve Walters, an Associate Professor of Instruction in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was asked to direct a summer camp for the College of Engineering. Excited and nervous about her new responsibility, she realized she now had the chance to team up with Philadelphia students to explore STEM topics.
The college currently has a variety of high school and pre-college summer programs which motivated Walters to target middle school students. Together with Dr. Shawn Fagan, they launched the College's Philadelphia Youth for STEM (PY-STEM) camp.
"I thought this would be an opportunity to complement our existing offerings and target a younger population and provide them with opportunities to be exposed to engineering," Walters said.
Rising sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students curious about STEM can explore their interests in a one-week experiential learning program.
Walters leads the group of middle schoolers through various indoor and outdoor experiments. As an environmental engineer, she works to incorporate topics, like climate change, energy and water into the week-long camp.
In the past, her research has evaluated the impacts of the urban environment on local water quality. In more recent work, she is using the Science of Teaching and Learning to advance undergraduate courses and curriculum at the College of Engineering.
At camp, she points out sustainable technologies around campus and in Philadelphia that most people wouldn't notice. She notes that science and engineering can be demonstrated anywhere. Still, Walters ensures campers have a well-rounded educational experience so they can explore all their interests and improve their STEM self-efficacy.
"They are exposed to STEM topics that hopefully they'll see in the next academic year, and having already seen it once might make them a little bit more confident when seeing it again in school," Walters said.
After a year of experience, she's learned it's essential to incorporate fun into all aspects of the camp to keep middle schoolers engaged. Walters originally planned a structured itinerary for the camp, but on day one, she realized the young campers need ample time to run around and burn off some energy.
"Middle schoolers are a whole different animal," Walters said laughing. "It makes college kids look like a walk in the park."
Walters has adapted the camp around age restrictions that prohibit young children from visiting labs and machine shops on campus to include child-friendly learning opportunities, like a library robot tour.
One of her favorite ways to mix fun and learning is with a sumo bot competition on the last day of camp with LEGO Education SPIKE Prime Sets, which are advanced LEGOs complete with computers and gears. Campers build LEGO robots to face off in battles where they push opposing robots out of a ring, developing middle school-level engineering and problem-solving skills.
Temple undergraduate students also work the camp as counselors to help guide the middle schoolers through challenges.
"Trying to embody a growth mindset — when things don't work out, knowing that you can get through it, persisting through — that's something that's important to me to get across to younger students," Walters said.
Walters was involved in summer camps in her youth, and she knows they can be "life-changing" experiences. Leading a STEM summer camp allows Walters to provide positive experiences for local middle schoolers, as camp directors once had for her.
"Having an opportunity to share my passion and love for engineering with other people is certainly my motivator," Walters said.
Visit https://engineering.temple.edu/Summer for more info on the summer programs and how to get started.