The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 31, 2013

STEM camp targets underrepresented youth

By Amanda Dyslin
adyslin@mankatofreepress.com

---- — MANKATO — The girl in the front didn't need prompting. When the high-voltage dance beats kicked in Wednesday morning, she broke out the Gangnam Style and the sprinkler, and there may have even been some throw-the-dice moves mixed in.

Then instructor Carly Hopper got things organized with coordinated exercises, such as jogging in place and jumping jacks — a little introduction for these diverse sixth- through eighth-graders on possible high-energy careers in exercise science.

“Knees up!” Hopper said as the room erupted in giggles with kids trying to outdo one another on just how high those knees could go up. “We're going to shuffle to the left. To the right. To the left. How we doing?”

“Not good!” a bunch of girls, totally out of breath, yelled from the center of the small gym in Pennington Hall at Minnesota State University.

These 48 kids from Rochester, the Twin Cities, Redwood Falls and other areas were taking part in the first Future Leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Camp put on by Institutional Diversity. Camps have been held each year at MSU but have focused mainly on college preparation, said camp organizer Briana Williamson, interim recruitment and retention adviser for Institutional Diversity.

Williamson said the camp targets the middle-school kids because in high school many students tend to lose interest in the sciences.

“Research demonstrates, for students of color, they are routed away from STEM careers,” she said. “We want to open their minds to those possibilities.”

The students were bused in Tuesday and are staying in the Margaret Preska Residence Community.

Throughout the four-day camp, the kids will build robots out of everyday objects found in their homes and learn what careers can come from engineering and math skills. Wednesday's events included doing the campus ropes course and a session called “CSI Experience,” where a professor teaches them skills such as how to identify if a skull belonged to a male or female.

“Our goal is to give (engaging) STEM experiences to those underrepresented populations,” she said.

Other fun non-STEM activities will include watching a Vikings practice, eating pizza and spending free time in the Maverick Bullpen recreation area.

The idea to kick things off Wednesday with exercise science lessons was pretty simple.

“We wanted to get their energy going,” Williamson said.

It seemed to do the trick until Hopper called for burpees.

“I can't get up,” said a boy near the back, cheek to the floor.