Participants in the STEM camp at Roane State Community College pose for a group photo outside the campus’s main entrance | Photo courtesy Michelle Watson

The campus of Roane State Community College in Huntsville looks a little different this July than it has in previous years. Thirty-eight middle school girls are being exposed to the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in a program sponsored by Roane State, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, and Verizon Innovative Learning. With the help of their four highly-qualified instructors, these young ladies are combining rigorous academic concepts with the real world.

The Independent Herald recently spoke with STEM instructor Michelle Watson about the importance of the RSCC Summer STEM Camp.

Independent Herald: What is the importance of STEM?

Michelle Watson: According to the US Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are currently growing faster than any other occupation. Studies show that STEM workers earn a higher salary than non-STEM workers, and they play an important role in the growth and continuity of our nation’s economy.

STEM education has been around for almost 20 years, but Verizon noticed a need to help bridge the country’s digital divide in 2012. Some students came from a more cultured and affluent background, and STEM programs across the country were not being funded equally. They began their work with nonprofit partners and educational experts to build STEM programs from the ground up.

IH: What are some things that are being done at the Summer STEM Camp?

MW: Our summer camp began on July 8th and will meet three weeks in the summer and once a month during the school year. It will end in May 2020.

At the Scott County Campus, we are introducing the process of Design Thinking, the worlds of 3D Printing, Augmented and Virtual Reality, and Electronics and Coding. Design Thinking encourages young minds to think like entrepreneurs and develop problem-solving and teamwork skills. Electronics and coding introduces the girls to circuits and prototype design. 3D modeling introduces how to make a 3D design of an object and print it for hands on discovery. Augmented and virtual reality uses that 3D model ro pLace it in real-world or virtual scenarios.

The girls have also been able to participate in several field trips that enable them to see the importance of STEM. They have visited places like the University of Tennessee STEM Center, Knoxville Botanical Gardens, Takahata, and the Big South Fork Airpark. They were even able to video conference with and aerospace engineer from NASA.

IH: Have you noticed any changes in the girls that are enrolled in the STEM program?

MW: The program has encouraged friendships outside of the girls’ individual schools because both school districts are represented including home-schooled students. Some have even stated that they are looking into STEM-related careers.

IH: Do you feel like the program has been successful (so far)?

MW: Our program has been very successful, and we are already making preparations for next summer. We have provided free technology, free internet access, and a next-gen, technology infused curriculum that has changed the way teachers teach and students learn. Our goal is to reach as many of our underserved young women in our community as possible. We want our girls to see that STEM careers can be utilized in Scott County, and I think they have noticed how important those careers can be.

This article is the July 2019 installment of Focus On: Education, presented by S.T.A.N.D. on the third week of each month as part of the Independent Herald’s Focus On series. A print version of this article can be found on Page A3 of the July 18, 2019 edition of the Independent Herald.