North Allegheny STEM camp combines fun, learning |
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Tony LaRussa

Ashna Patel and Victoria Ren appreciate the opportunities they‘ve had to explore and expand their knowledge of STEM subjects while attending North Allegheny.

But the teens know that not every student’s experience learning about science, technology, engineering and math has been as satisfying as theirs.

So they are spending their summer trying to add a few unofficial letters to the STEM acronym — FUN.

“We decided to start a summer camp called STEM & Buds last August while we were at a debate camp here at North Allegheny,” said Patel, 15, who will be a junior this year. “We’ve done a lot of STEM-related camps in the past, but they weren’t as much fun as the debate camp because we felt that a lot of the curriculum was really structured. While we learned a lot of interesting things, the way it was presented was a little dry for us, especially when we were younger.”

The name of the camp is a reference to parts of a flower, with “Buds” representing the creation of relationships between mentors and students that last a lifetime, Patel said.

Ren, who co-founded the project with Patel, said the science-and-technology mentoring program for elementary and middle-school students also is a good opportunity for kids to zero in on STEM-related activities.

“Because we’ve attended a lot of summer camps, we know that it’s a period of time where you can focus only on STEM,” said Ren, 14, who will be a sophomore at NA this year. “We have after-school programs where kids are getting the (STEM) material, but they also have schoolwork, sports and other activities going on.”

A STEM & Buds program was held at North Allegheny the week of Aug. 5. A second one takes place at Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning this week.

“We wanted to make it free and have it at two locations so we could reach a lot of different students who might not have the means to come here,” Patel said.

One of the goals for the STEM & Buds camp is to bolster interest in the scientific process.

“The STEM classes and science fairs at school gave us the chance to take an idea we actually care about and like and apply it to something that we were able to discover on our own,” Patel said. “So we wanted to give that same opportunity to people who perhaps don’t have the same encouragement at home or from their community and school. We’re excited to be able to provide a way for kids to come together and make a project that they are passionate about.”

North Allegheny eighth-grader Agneeshwar Vasanth, 13, said the camp has been “amazing.”

“I’m really enjoying it — double thumbs up,” he said. “I like that we really don’t have to worry about anything else except our science project. It’s been a great time.”

Ren said while the goal of the program is to help inspire participants to delve deeper into STEM, it also has been a learning experience for the students volunteering as mentors.

“A lot of the time when we are teaching a concept, we are learning a lot ourselves,” she said. “The kids come up with some crazy ideas that force us to think about how we deconstruct this problem so that it can become a project.”

Meghana Komaragiri, 11, who is entering sixth grade at North Allegheny, said the mentors have made the camp “super fun.”

“Everybody is included in all the activities, which has been really great,” she said.

Komaragiri said she liked being able to pick a science project that could have real-world applications.

“I’m doing mine on which eyeliner runs the least,” she said laughing. “I think that’s something that’s pretty practical to know.”

NA Superintendent Bob Scherrer said the work students do in the summer can have a positive affect on others.

“As we head into a new school year, it’s wonderful to see our students working hard during summer break to inspire their peers for success in a changing world,” he said. “We look forward to watching the STEM & Buds program grow in the upcoming school year.”

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