Story by Matt Gonzales on 07/09/2019MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va.For one week in June, 67 middle- and high-school students conducted science experiments, built unmanned underwater vehicles and constructed miniature submarinesmade of potatoes.
These activities were designed to spark their curiosity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
Hosted by Marine Corps Systems Command, the ninth annual MCSC Quantico Summer STEM Camp took place at Quantico Middle/High School, aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. Led by engineers from MCSC and teachers from QMHS, the event enabled children and teens to engage in various STEM activities that ignited their imaginations.
"This was a weeklong camp where we exposed children in grades 6 to 9 to fun, interactive activities that will hopefully inspire them to pursue careers in science and technology," said Karrin Felton, MCSC's engineering competency manager and STEM action officer.
The first day of camp allowed students to participate in soldering, an engineering process that involves melding electrical components together to form a circuit. Electricians often rely on soldering when attaching wires to circuit boards.
Donning safety goggles, students used a soldering iron to meticulously heat component leads into a circuit board to create a wearable robot electronic pin with flashing "eyes." The activity required steadfast concentration, and trial and error.
"It's always great to see kids excited about solving problems," said Felton. "I love seeing them try something, fail at it and not be afraid to try it again."
Children also built a tethered, remote-controlled unmanned underwater vehicle called a SeaPerch. The construction phase enabled students to learn various scientific concepts such as buoyancy, circuitry and propulsion.
Once completed, participants used their hand-crafted vehicles to complete several challenges. For example, students tested the high-speed maneuverability of their concoctions in an obstacle course and used the vehicles to retrieve rings from a pool.
Teamwork was a common theme of the week. Many students offered words of encouragement to one another during each challenge, bolstering their team's confidence. They also collaborated while brainstorming creative ways to solve complex problems.
"Young people have so much energy," said Felton. "They can organically adjust to a situation, regroup and come up with another idea to complete a challenge."
The highlight of the week came on the third day of camp. Dr. Tina Brower-Thomas, executive director of education at Howard University, led a nanotechnology demonstration that involved mixing milk with liquid nitrogen to produce ice cream. After eating the ice cream, students enjoyed dipping flowers into the liquid nitrogen to produce a smoke that astonished those in attendance.
"This demo allowed us to talk about science and something that everyone lovesice cream," said Brower-Thomas. "If we can talk about science with something that everyone loves, then you can engage young people."
The event succeeded in dazzling the dozens of young, impressionable students in attendance. They experienced hands-on learning, grappled with challenges, observed science experiments and, on the final day, graduated from camp. Felton and other event organizers felt the week was a resounding success.
"This was the largest turnout we've ever had at the camp," said Felton. "The week was well-organized and fun. Overall, the kids had a fantastic time."