Summer camps were no exception to the giant halt COVID-19 imposed worldwide. That is, until San Jacinto College's Pathway to the Stars Camp flipped into an online summer camp.
Originally one of the College's free on-campus summer camps, plans quickly changed in early March to convert the NASA journey to Mars STEM camp to an online format that would still offer the same hands-on, engaging, and exciting content. Not only would the camp team accomplish that, but they also set a new enrollment record with 300 students registered for the duration of the camp sessions.
"We were one of the first institutions with a NASA Minority University Research and Education Project Aerospace Academy grant to go virtual with an afterschool program, and we were the only San Jac summer camp to be offered this year," said Dr. Janis Fowler, San Jac Aerospace Academy director. "Our San Jac Continuing and Professional Development aerospace team was the key in making all of this work efficiently and effectively for 12 summer camp sessions."
Since the camp was held online, Fowler said supplies had to be sent to students via Amazon. However, due to shipping delays, a few of the experiments had to be tweaked to accomplish those learning outcomes. She also added that some parents joined in on the activities — something they often don't have an opportunity to do — which was a beneficial surprise of facilitating the camp online.
Lydia Miranda, whose son joined in on the camp, said that the activities were intriguing and engaging even for kids whose interests don't usually lean toward STEM, especially with the teachers encouraging innovative critical thinking throughout the entire camp.
"I was pleasantly surprised to see my child's enthusiasm for the content and activities," she said. "He is more of an artsy type and has never expressed a particular interest in science or engineering. There were so many hands-on activities and projects that I never felt he was glued to a screen for too long. As a parent of a creative child, I was impressed by how much inventiveness the students had while completing the activities. The instructors frequently encouraged students to take risks and be creative while completing the assignments, which allowed my child's imagination free reign. The instructors were incredibly patient and supportive, providing feedback while coaching students to be independent thinkers. I believe the experience has opened my child's eyes to the opportunities available within STEM careers."
Hosting the camp online also created participation opportunities that classroom camps don't always provide.
"The online camp allowed shy students to participate a great deal more with the voice and chat features," said Misty Coyle, San Jac aerospace education project coordinator. "We were also able to reach students who had special needs that may not have been able to attend the camp face-to-face on campus."
Both Fowler and Coyle said that parents are eagerly asking about the next online summer camp, and the aerospace team is already in planning mode.
"We are looking at ways to expand on the success of this summer," said Fowler. "Perhaps we will build a Part 2 camp so these students can continue building their STEM skills. Overall, we feel these students are going to be more experienced at attending school online in the fall because of their experiences with us this summer. As we continue to assess this year's camp and plan for the upcoming year, we would love to incorporate high school students and parent programs, given all of the positive feedback we've received."
Visit the San Jacinto College aerospace education page for more information on workforce training and STEM programs.