Participants in a robotics camp learned Tuesday that STEM extends beyond the world around them – it goes all the way into space.
STEM For Kids, which runs camps, after-school programs and workshops, invited guest speaker Marc Fusco, a NASA ambassador, to speak about the use of technologies in space. The program runs a different camp every week, all focusing on engineering and technology. The participants are Wake County students, ranging from kindergarteners to fifth-graders.
“There are a lot of efforts to get kids excited about STEM education,” Fusco said. He volunteers with the Solar System Ambassador Program, an extension of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He talked to campers about NASA’s use of robotics to explore Mars, among other topics, prompting many excited questions about space and technology.
“Do people live in space?” one student asked.
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“Are there planets in other galaxies?” questioned another.
STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – education has recently received national attention and is growing in importance to the economy. An estimated 120,000 computer science jobs are created each year nationally, yet only 40,000 people graduate each year with bachelor’s degrees in those fields, according to a Microsoft report. In North Carolina, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is estimated that there will be 230,000 STEM-related jobs by 2018.
Fields with STEM jobs include space exploration and health care in addition to computer sciences, said Moni Singh, the founder and CEO of STEM for Kids.
She wants to get kids excited about STEM so they can one day take the available jobs in the field.
She said the camp aims to connect kids with the subjects and to show them how these fields apply to the real world.
Campers discovered they do, in fact, care about STEM, evidenced by their questions, comments and discussion about rockets, the speed of light, Pluto’s status as a planet, water vapor, the atmosphere and even ‘extremophiles’ – life forms present in extreme conditions.
Jack Golder, a first-grader, said he learned more from Fusco’s presentation than he did at space camp. Many times, he raised his hand to ask a question or chime in with the discussion. When Fusco talked about lasers used in space, Golder let out a shout, excited to learn that lasers are real. After the presentation, he worked with other students to build and program robots, an activity offered to students for the day.
“A lot of it was so cool,” he said.