While STEM Camps are held at different locations in PWC, Fairfax, and Loudoun, (traditionally at high schools) this week has given middle and high school students a taste of something different: STEM learning on a college campus. Four of our camps are being operated on the NOVA Loudoun Campus in the state-of-the-art Higher Education Center.
From Lego EV3, VEX IQ and VEX 1 robotics to a more advanced cybersecurity camp, 142 students and their parents are engaging in STEM and walking the halls of NOVA as a backdrop to an informative and inspirational hands-on STEM experience.
Particularly for the cybersecurity students, who range from rising 9th to 12th graders, NOVA is an attractive option for continued study in STEM because it offers an A.A.S. in cybersecurity. As cyber jobs are increasingly in demand, NOVA can provide a fast-track of sorts to the workforce because a 4-year degree isn’t necessarily the only way to a cyber career.
Bradley Schwartz, President & CEO of the Blue Canopy Group, a Northern Virginia IT firm, suggested exactly this notion at the VA Cyber conference (held on NOVA’s Woodbridge Campus) last fall. He said “you don’t just need a 4-year degree, you need really smart people and practical experience.”
With this type of endorsement the potential NOVA students that attend our cyber camp can move forward with more confidence since attaining a certificate in cybersecurity is seen as a more and more viable option to fill the 17,000 vacant cyber jobs in the commonwealth. Having high school students inspired not only in cybersecurity but learning about it while on a NOVA campus is a win-win situation.
Best-selling higher education author Jeff Selingo in his book College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students says “few things matter as much in where a student eventually ends up as the campus visit. As a result, schools have increasingly tried to sell an experience on the tour rather than simply convey information.” While STEM camp is not overtly a tour for prospective students, it is an important exposure for them.
Dr. Julie Leidig, Provost at NOVA’s Loudoun Campus, emphasizes the importance of interfacing early with students to create an expectation of college simply by visiting. “We want to get kids thinking about STEM and college while they’re still young enough to be excited and less prone to feel that they have limitations. With these camps, early exposure to learning on a college campus starts to acclimatize them to college and the idea of going to NOVA for STEM education. We have a mission to build the regional STEM workforce in this community. SySTEMic Solutions is an extension of our mission.”
Many of the students we’ve engaged in STEM over the last few years are not yet in college. As they start to get to college age, our goal is to develop an effective tracking system of “camps to college to career” metrics that not only inspires STEM students but also keeps them in our regional workforce after graduation.
John Wood, CEO of Telos, a cybersecurity company in Loudoun, has a simple formula for this: “Make math and science cool,” he says. “That’s where you start.”
The NOVA Loudoun campus will also host the second annual Loudoun County STEM day on October 1. From drones to robotics to 3D printing to biotech and more, we are confident that thousands of students in Northern Virginia will find STEM cool enough to pursue as their career.
And NOVA can play a big part.