Launching model rockets was a popular activity at the College's annual STEM Science camp.
What makes Thomas Nelson’s annual Summer STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) camp stand out, according to Lucinda Spryn, is that activities are fun. It’s not about lectures or reading out of a book. It’s about being hands-on.
“That’s what they like about this,” said Spryn, the head of Thomas Nelson’s chemistry department and an assistant professor who organizes the camp, which just completed its fifth year.
A look at what the students were doing illustrates her point.
In a lab on the second floor of Hastings Hall, 16 students huddled around burners as they took part in an experiment called “Making Alchemist’s Gold.” On another day, they were outside looking up into the sky after their model rockets blasted off. Their time also was spent flying drones, creating computer games and dissecting animals.
It’s not how a typical middle school student spends his or her summer. Judging by the excitement that accompanied each activity, the students were very much enjoying the hands-on activities.
Twins Jenna and Gabrielle Sadowski, who are getting ready for their first year at Kecoughtan High School, were participating in the camp for their third, and final, time.
“It’s a pretty fun thing to do during the summer,” Jenna said. “We find out about a lot of cool stuff.”
Gabrielle said the best part was “definitely the drones.”
Their mother, Shelly, said both were really excited when they got home from camp after participating in the “Making Alchemist’s Gold” activity.
“I think they’ve enjoyed the experiments,” she said.
The camp is for middle school students so Jenna and Gabrielle won’t be able to attend next year, but Gabrielle would like to participate in a similar one for older students.
“If there were some available, yes,” she said.
Olivia Sevcik, an 11-year-old from Newport News who was participating in the camp for the first time, has enjoyed it so much that she anticipates attending again next year. She is particularly interested in computers and coding, so when she heard about that aspect of camp, she was excited.
“We’re working on a video game,” Olivia said. “It takes a while so we did half today and we’re doing half tomorrow.”
She also really liked the rockets.
“It was fun. We had water get everywhere,” she said.
Her mother, Melanie, said Olivia has enjoyed the camp a lot.
“She has a twin brother and he didn’t want to do it so she’s telling him he should do it next year. I’m assuming that means she likes it,” Melanie said.
Spryn said four students are repeats, and the number of campers (slightly more than 30) is about the same every year. Spryn started the program as a way to get students interested in STEM fields. She didn’t want to do high school students because many of those have already decided on career paths. She said the College wasn’t equipped to handle younger kids, so middle school students seemed to be the right fit.
“They haven’t yet made up their minds,” she said, adding that sometimes the students aren’t too excited about certain activities, but once they try them, that changes.
That’s rewarding to Spryn and the rest of her team, which also consisted of Julie Young, Don Ouellette, Riham Mahfouz, Olufunke Olagunju, Sally Schaffner, Elena Kuchina and Sunny Sheliese Crawley.
“It’s a time where they’re really open to things,” Spryn said.