STEM camps can inspire career paths. Not just in ideas but through environment. Earlier this summer, when one of our high school STEM camp instructors experienced the atmosphere at the technically cutting-edge AOL campus in Dulles, he said “I want to work here when I grow up.”
We generally operate our STEM camps at High Schools, NOVA campuses and other educational institutions, but this summer we also had the privilege of holding camps at the industry giant from July 22-26.
The AOL Dulles campus is an invigorating center of technology and a great place to hold our Scratch Programming, LEGO EV3 and VEX Robotics camps. We hope the experience of such a tech-savvy professional environment makes STEM engagement more memorable and inspiring.
AOL classrooms provided state of the art equipment, including desktop space with embedded outlets and audio and video equipment that allowed competition action to be displayed in real time for the parents. In addition the auditorium provided a stadium element for the VEX 1 competition.
SySTEMic Solutions’ Loudoun coordinator Liz Coffey noted “both instructors and campers asked about how they could get a job at AOL.” The instructors also observed how the professional surroundings generally led to more focus. Sometimes, when campers are in a school environment “they revert back to school behavior,” as one instructor noted.
The success of SySTEMic Solutions depends on sustained engagement from local businesses, creating not only opportunities for prospective STEM students but also a chance for AOL to invest in the future workforce. Jamie Mittleman, Senior Marketing Manager from Citizen AOL, extolled the potential of partnership: “STEM camps invigorate our employees and campuses. Employees want to work at a company that gives back and actively seek opportunities to get involved in their communities. By opening our doors, we are exposing the next generation of leaders to our brands, but also supporting volunteer opportunities for our employees.”
And so it proved all week. AOL employees were intrigued by the camps and often observed proceedings. Some asked how they could register their own children in a camp. One 25 year-old employee who was part of the fishbowl group encouraged the VEX IQ campers that they are “getting ahead of the game” and reflected that he did not have the advantage of doing “things like this” when he was young. Other employees offered free new and used books to campers. AOL not only helped in welcoming our program, staff and campers, they were instrumental in logistical planning and even printed the requisite signs and banners in-house. It was a wonderful example of industry collaboration with NOVA and STEM education.
Mittleman also sees the big picture from camp to career to culture: “We’re talking about making the world a better place. We put that mission in action by investing in future leaders, strengthening communities around the globe and empowering our people, partners, clients and audiences to make an outstanding impact on society’s biggest challenges. Engaging students in STEM is so important because we are giving them tools to accomplish what many could only dream of. We are giving them the skill sets to turn ideas into actions.”
This is something we hope our camp students will absorb as they chart a path towards STEM education and ultimately the future STEM workforce.