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Sparking New Interests with Summer Exploration Camps


“It’s a fun thing to do even when you’re not going to grow up to do it,” says one welding camp participant.

With the help from a state grant…

“Our goal is to spark that interest,” says Laura Percival.

Laura Percival– the Mistem Region 12 Director– is sparking up the interest of middle school students…

She says, “They were wiring outlets, they were lighting a welding torch after an hour and a half. They’re just having a great time.”

These special summer exploration camps were created to introduce students to different trades like welding, electricity, CNC machining, and other STEM careers.

“Last year we started off with welding camp and exploring electricity. And we had 41 kids total. This year, we have eight camps and 110 kids signed up. We want to keep growing it, so this year I tried to add in some stem camps, so we have robotics. Which was filled up and we have a waiting list,” says Percival.

An electrical camp participant says, “Most people don’t consider this as a job I guess, it’s not one of their first options.”

For many kids– college seems like the next step after graduation. 

She explains, “My first option when I really thought about it, I wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. But when I came to this class, I thought it’d be really cool to also do something like this, as another option.”

But these summer camps allow them to try something new and explore more options– starting early, with middle school students.

Percival says, “The main focus was getting high school kids, to help them with our employers, and when we started looking at what we’re doing for them, we said, we got to do something for our middle school kids or we’re going to lose them…And there are some studies that show, if they’re not exposed in middle school, that they won’t even step into it when they walk into high school.”

Giving younger students the opportunity to check out different trades, allows them to try new things that they wouldn’t be able to in a traditional school setting–
Like making keychains on CNC milling machines.

A CNC camp participant says, “This is the germ corp international logo on aluminum. I carved it in using that mill.”

Or learning robotics using computer coding software.

One STEM camp participant says, “We messed with those, they are called dashes, and then we messed with these little balls, they’re called sphiros. I really like setting up the code, and the trial and error part because if you get it perfect on the first try then it’s not really fun.”

And most importantly, creating new relationships with kids from different schools in the area.

“Just how easily they made those connections, in just two days, is just cool to see. Talking, hanging out, eating lunch together, showing all their stuff, helping each other,” says Industrial Arts Institute welding instructor, Anna May Kohler.

Building partnerships with local schools, students are doing hands-on activities with the help of experienced instructors who work in the field.

Percival states, “This year we added in CNC machining with a partnership with North Central Michigan College. We have a partnership with the Industrial Arts Institute. We have Kirtland instructor that we have helping, so we’re always working with our local schools.”

And Laura hopes that every year, they continue to grow– expanding opportunities for different interests.

She shares, “I’m hoping to get a construction camp next year. I’d love to get more of a natural resource camp. Kids coming in and looking at invasive species, and water management, and forestry.”

“A bunch of them by today were asking, when can I come back? When can I do something more? So I think that’s my favorite part, just seeing that passion grow,” says Kohler.

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