Campers set out on STEM exploration

James Jacobs, Upper Iowa University assistant professor of information technology, watches as UIU STEM camp participants (l-r) Emma Biederman, Fayette; J.K. Prentice, Elgin; Claire Britt, West Union, and Aidan Rink, Atlantic, dismantle a computer.

Area youth explored mammalian cells and microscopic life in ponds, determined the age of fish, analyzed cellular proteins, learned various skills involving computers and flew a drone during the Summer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Camp at Upper Iowa University in Fayette Tuesday-Thursday, June 14-16. Ranging in ages from 10-13, the young students amazed the camp counselors (UIU faculty) with their natural curiosity and enthusiasm.

Rececca Schmidt, UIU assistant professor of biology, explained her activity plan included using microscopes to investigate pond water. The campers then used the University’s fluorescent scope to discover how certain types of algae and bacteria can exhibit fluorescence.

“I was delighted to see the students’ excitement as they continued to identify new things they wanted to see through the microscope,” she said. “I could hardly keep up with their requests to ‘show my slide next!’”

“Working with students at this age is always an awesome reminder that they come in already knowing a lot of science and it doesn’t take them long to grasp difficult concepts or procedures,” added Jeff Butikofer, UIU associate professor chemistry, who led the module in determining the age of fish.

William Jones, UIU assistant professor of biology, noted that when he was in the 7th grade he believed he “knew everything” about atoms and “knew everything” about cells, but yet he could not understand how atoms and cells were related to each other.  He hoped that by introducing the campers to this ‘problem’ and by exposing them in his exercise to living mammalian cells, and seeing that in at least one example, how molecules (proteins) make up cells, they would be similarly intrigued.

“My ultimate hope is that this and similar STEM camps can inspire young people to see their future selves doing something they had not imagined possible before. I am always surprised by their innate curiosity. I hope that their future education experience does not extinguish that in them,” said Jones.

“I see the key benefit to STEM camps being the exposure to specific topics and higher levels of detail that typically cannot be covered in a K-12 environment,” added James Jacobs, UIU assistant professor of information technology. “I am always surprised at how quickly the students can grasp the concepts. Later in life, people have the fear of failure and the fear of the unknown keeping them from exploring new things. Students in this age group are not afraid to try new ways of thinking, so they accomplish great things. This should be a lesson for us all.”

Upper Iowa University is a STEM Jobs Approved College. The special recognition is for colleges and universities that provide broad and innovative STEM degree options for undergraduate students, actively recruit underrepresented and under-prepared students into STEM degrees, as well as offer targeted student support systems and career services to help students succeed.

Photos from the camp can be viewed at

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