A Summer of STEM
This summer, UCF hosted its STEM Summer Institute (SI) camps for Central Florida middle and high school students. The STEM Summer Institute (SI) offers a mix of activities designed to maximize learning through hands-on, individualized instruction in an effort to provide science, technology, and math related summer opportunities to students. The SI currently offers camps in Biology, Physics, Computer Science and Competitive Programming.
From July 18-22, the Biology Field Institute introduced rising junior and senior high school students to field techniques and experimental approaches used in wetland health assessment, vegetation monitoring, forest ecology, and studies of gopher tortoises and marine turtles. Students were given the opportunity to participate in hands-on-experiences during a coastal trip with professional biologists in the fields of biology, ecology, and natural resource conservation as well as learn about the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge and Marine Turtle Research Group project with UCF students studying marine turtle ecology and conservation.
“We took them to the Barrier Island Center where they receive a lecture comparing and contrasting the inland ecosystems that they were working in to the coastal systems,” explained coordinator of the UCF Arboretum programs, Jennifer Elliott. “Then, we took them on a guided hike from ‘dune to lagoon,’ showing them many of the ecosystem characteristics and plants that we lectured on previously.”
This year, the Biology Summer Field Institute added the component of “Junior Peer Mentors.” These are four of the top high school attendees from last year’s institute that were invited to return as leaders. They were placed in new field groups to learn about new habitats while also being assigned a leadership role.
The following week, from July 25-29, middle school students were taught the subject of water through the eyes of physics, chemistry, biology and engineering in the Physics: Multi-Disciplinary camp. This one week program was designed to expose and enhance students’ understanding of how to approach a topic from multiple dimensions.
Hands-on experiments and interactive lectures such as “Water Quality Analysis” led by chemistry professor Melanie Beazley, Ph.D., or the “Hunt for Water on Other Planets” led by physics professor Adrienne Dove, Ph.D., were given to help tie in big picture concepts as well as lectures from guest speakers in fields of dentistry, public health, and local theme parks to show water’s great impact in those areas.
“This kind of exposure is vital in an increasingly interdisciplinary world,” stated UCF physics professor Ahlam Al-Rawi, Ph.D. “It is important to learn how various fields approach a subjects and thus learn how to communicate and collaborate effectively. We hope the middle school students attending will get a better idea of the career opportunities that are out there in STEM fields and find out what they might be interested in pursuing.”
The STEM Summer Institute also offered computer science instruction and competitive programming competitions throughout June and July. Students were exposed to broader topics in computer science through distinguished lecture series where researchers spoke about computer concepts from various points of views. Activities varying from special programs, speakers, and field trips were also provided.