Students from the 2017 IBM STEM camp in Iowa
with Adrienne Breitfelder (third row far right),who
leads the IBM volunteer team.

“Most students tell us they wish the camp lasted longer because they enjoyed it so much!” says Adrienne Breitfelder, an IBM volunteer in Iowa, United States, who leads a team of IBM volunteers in hosting technology-oriented camps in their community.

In 2009, IBM established a new technology service delivery center in Dubuque, Iowa, and employees were eager to bring additional value to the city and its citizens.

Adrienne says that “As a way to contribute to the community that welcomed IBM, there was a strong desire to offer science, technology, engineering and science (STEM) opportunities to kids in the area.”

Since then, Adrienne and a total of over 70 local IBM volunteers have planned, hosted and led three-day STEM camps for select students at the three middle schools in Dubuque; earning the IBM team a 2017 IBM Volunteer Excellence Award for their work.

EX.I.T.Ed and IGN.I.T.Ed
In 2014, Adrienne co-led the camp with its former lead, who mentored her throughout the process, then she took over as the team lead in 2015.

“I had just finished my first year at IBM and was looking for opportunities to build my skills, specifically in project management,” she says. “My manager recommended I get involved in planning the camp to enhance those skills.”

The curriculum for the camps is based on two established models: EXploring Interests in Technology and Engineering (EX.I.T.E) and Igniting Interests in Technology and Engineering (IGN.I.T.E). Both programs are designed to spark interest and introduce middle school students to future careers in STEM fields.

“EX.I.T.E. and IGN.I.T.E. camps have been fantastic ways for IBM to grow STEM opportunities among middle school students in other cities, so it seemed like a perfect fit for us,” says Adrienne.

The goals for camp—which takes place each year in July at the IBM facility—include providing young people with access to successful technical role models and demonstrating that technology can be fun and exciting.

The roles models, fun and excitement are a result of enthusiastic volunteers using activity kits designed to amaze and stimulate young minds.

The team also created an IBM Activity Kit on Agile techniques, called “ Running a Modern Project ” with help from local IBM Agile champions.

It takes a village
Each of the three middle schools in Dubuque selects 10 students a year to participate.

Emphasis is on selecting students who show enthusiasm for STEM and may not have the financial opportunity to participate in summer activities.

“Dubuque Community Schools has been a tremendous partner throughout the process,” says Adrienne.

Parents drop off students at the IBM building and the students spend the day engaged in activities in various conference rooms.

In addition to the vital support from the schools and parents, the other essential ingredient in the camps is the strong involvement of IBM volunteers.

As Adrienne describes it, she oversees each camp but relies heavily on “captains” to collaborate with her on the agenda and topics.

“Our volunteer captains can select a STEM activity they’re interested in, or we can work together to identify one,” she says. “At the end of each camp, I use student input to determine which activities are popular and should continue the following year.”

Each captain is also helped by other IBM volunteers. The captain learns the activity in advance and teaches it to the volunteers so that they can participate with the students.

“It truly takes a village to run a STEM camp!” Adrienne says. “With over nine different activities conducted during the three days of camp, plus check in, checkout, snacks and lunches, it takes a lot of dedicated volunteers to sustain the camp—in addition to the schools and parents.”

Over 20 IBM volunteers along with Adrienne were named as recipients of the 2017 Volunteer Excellence Award—one of the largest teams to receive the award.

Adrienne adds, “I greatly appreciate each one of our volunteers for their efforts and passion for the students. They are a wonderful team to work with and I am incredibly lucky to have their ongoing support.”

Highlight of the year
Over 250 students have participated in the IBM STEM camps in Dubuque since the program’s inception.

“Growing up, I did not get much hands-on exposure to STEM, which led me to negatively view those topics, and honestly, give up on them,” says Adrienne. “By showing kids at an early age how these are interesting, I want to increase the likelihood they’ll pursue the countless opportunities in STEM.”

While a STEM discipline may not be Adrienne’s expertise, she does credit her organization and communication skills as a professional at IBM as “huge factors” in being an effective team lead of the camps.

And there is the motivation and passion she shares with her fellow volunteers.

“Volunteering has had such a positive impact on my personal and professional life,” she says. “It can be challenging to balance any volunteer opportunity with your daily commitments, but the benefits are worth it. Working at the camp is truly one of the biggest highlights of my year.”

The IBM volunteers from the United States are among 12 other IBM teams and individuals who are recipients of the thirteenth annual IBM Volunteer Excellence Award. The award is recognition from IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty and is the highest form of global volunteer recognition given by the company to employees.

About these stories

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Read about IBMers whose volunteer efforts are improving communities around the world.

Activity Kits

IBM’s volunteer Activity Kits include everything you need for a range of activities.