Full ‘STEM’ ahead

Haley Heath and Donnie McNeil work on a project during the 2015 STEM Camp.

Educator Mary Lynn Warren watched as students Donnie McNeil and Haley Heath made a few tweaks to a robot’s light and sound sensors. The mission was for the machine to follow a long piece of tape with several curves.

“We’re trying to get it ready, so it can move by the sound of a clap,” Donnie said while looking at a laptop screen with Haley.

Using Lego Mindstorms, they worked together to see how a robot can be used through artificial intelligence to collect and analyze data. Changes were also made on the computer’s software, depending on reactions to different stimuli.

“The key was to look at real life applications of robots,” Warren said. “They may look simple, but they still can collect valid data and mimic larger robots that you find in the business world and engineering.”

It was one of several activities held during a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) camp, held at Sampson Community College.

“With the camp and other aspects of it, I think they’re seeing how math, science and technology are all an integral part of today’s life,” Warren said. “It’s in everything you do. It’s an exploding world and the jobs that are coming in the future will certainly be springing from the (STEM) of today.”

It allowed students such as Everson Moran to learn about the fields through hands-on activities and presentations. The 14-year-old will be a freshman at Lakewood High School in the fall. During the program, he enjoyed working with other young learners and instructors.

“The people in that room are very talented and I learned from them as much as I learned from my teachers,” Everson said. “It’s a very good learning experience.”

Another aspect he enjoyed was the active participation, which was a change of pace from just sitting in a classroom.

“Everything that I learned, I’m going to keep it because it’s going to be beneficial to me in the future,” Everson said.

The lessons he learned may helps him towards his path to becoming a financial manager and behavior analyst.

“STEM is really good,” Everson said. “I recommend it to everybody.”

The camp is now in its third year and is joint effort between SCC, Sampson County Schools and Clinton City Schools. Coordinators Robbin Cooper and Rebecca Lockamy are pleased with the success of the program. Each year, Cooper notices how the participants become better students through the camp.

“It’s a big transition,” Cooper said. “We have kids who come to us and they really don’t talk in groups. But then you see them on stage and they have really grasped the concept or found something that they like. They come out of their shell.”

The fun for students began with Dr. Dennis Kubasko Jr., director for University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Education in STEM. During his visit, Kubasko conducted activities which involved bottle rockets and parachuting.

“They had challenges and they had to compete with each other when they built the models,” Lockamy said about the visit.

It was followed Tuesday by robotics and video game programing. The students had to build a robot and put it through an obstacle course. Next, they made games and played each other.

On the following day, the students visited North Carolina State University’s Williamsdale Research Farm to learn about bio-fuels. The camp held at Sampson Community College concluded Thursday with presentations for parents. Close to 30 students participated in the week-long activity.

Lockamy said the camp includes a diverse group of children who work together to accomplish goals.

“By the end of the camp, they’re really close and they enjoy being around each other,” she said. “I think the social part of it is just as important.”

The free camp is made possible through sponsors in the community including Lockamy Tek Insurance, Cape Fear Farm Credit, Prestage Farms, Inc., Clinton-Sampson Rotary Club and Star Communications.

“We have to thank our sponsors because without them, this is an opportunity we wouldn’t be able to have,” Lockamy said. “The board of education was very adamant about it being a free camp. Through our sponsorships, we’ve been able to do that.”

In the future, school officials hope to add to the camp by having another session for rising sophomores, who previously attended. Like Lockamy, Cooper hopes the interest continues throughout high school.

“That way we can have a different camp for them to take them to the next level,” Cooper said.