Joe Haschke, chemistry and physics teacher at Lakeview High School in Columbus, helps Aliyah Manzano, a sixth-grader at Schuyler Middle School, with her 3-D design on June 21 at Central Community College. 

Schuyler Middle School sixth-grader Aliyah Manzano said she aspires to one day be a cosmetologist, but wanted to broaden her horizons by immersing herself in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field through a camp specifically targeting young girls.

Manzano said she recently enjoyed picking up coding skills from Shantelle Suiter, a mathematics teacher at Columbus Middle School, adding she learned how to program different sounds and lights.

The camp was powered by Verizon’s Innovative Learning Program at Central Community College and came about after the company learned about the low number of female youth living in rural communities pursuing a STEM-based education. As a result, Verizon made it its goal to increase these numbers through its Innovative Learning Program, held in collaboration with the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Approximately $3 million worth of funding and STEM technology items were given out to 15 community colleges nationwide, including CCC, which received $127,000 to host year-long STEM courses. Among them include summer camps for sixth-through-eighth-grade female youth in their communities.

Doris Lux, director of CCC’s Entrepreneurship Center, said many children were not aware of the opportunities the STEM field holds in terms of career opportunities.

“And if you don’t know that you can go into those careers, you’re not going to go into them,” Lux said. “My purpose is to expose young ladies who don’t typically get that exposure and give them the opportunity go into a field that they could be very well-qualified to go into ..."

The STEM summer camp at CCC was in its second week (of three) on June 21, benefiting 95 girls from Schuyler, Columbus and other area communities. The students had just started implementing the different skills they had learned with various STEM equipment while preparing for project presentations this Friday.

Participants were given tablets to use during classes, which they will be able to take home and keep at the course's completion.

The training covers four different areas of STEM, coding, 3-D printing, designing and entrepreneurship, as well as augmented reality, virtual reality and 360-degree videos. Students rotate through these areas every day.

“I think it’s an opportunity for these girls to get their hands on (this technology) … and it allows them to learn to think outside the box and then it goes into a little bit of entrepreneurship, also,” said Linda Strecker, a sixth-grade teacher at St. Isidore School at Columbus who was helping out.

Throughout the camp, students are receiving feedback and coaching from individuals who work in the STEM field, including female engineers from BD Medical, local forensic engineers and CCC faculty members.

Strecker leads a course on design thinking and its five phases: empathy, defining the problem, brainstorming, prototyping and testing. Her students have had to brainstorm ways to help the community overcome problems, such as reducing waste in the river and designing prototypes to resolve these issues.

“They can use this technology and this design-thinking whenever they’re coming up with a problem and solution in any of their other classes as they get older,” Strecker said.

Strecker said she's impressed with how much her students have grown in terms of understanding concepts within just a week-long timeframe.

Students spent most of their time in the computer lab during the 3-D printing session led by Joe Haschke, chemistry and physics teacher at Lakeview High School, printing various prototypes.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln 4-H Extension educator Dagen Valentine, who leads the session on augmented reality, virtual reality and 360-degree videos, said students will be able to implement the skills they learn during his session in a variety of fields, noting artists are slowly implementing virtual reality into their work.

“There’s some really good technology going on now, and 10 years from (now), it’s going to be so much better,” Valentine said. “So it’s good that they’re getting the exposure now about the possibilities.”

Natasya Ong is a reporter for the Schuyler Sun. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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