When it comes to working with middle-school aged students, perhaps there is no greater skill than being prepared. Adrienne Scott has learned a lot about this. Every summer since 2014, Adrienne leads EX.I.T.E./IG.N.I.T.E, a three-day summer camp hosted by the Dubuque Client Innovation Center. The camp gives 20-plus middle school students personalized instruction in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
In her current role as a transition manager at IBM, Adrienne provides communication support for executives and the North America Client Innovation Centers. When a manager asked Adrienne to oversee planning and hosting for the annual camp, Adrienne says it was easy to say yes. “My manager knew I was looking for opportunities to progress my career, and thought helping to lead the camp would be a great opportunity,” she says.
Adrienne was excited about volunteering not only because it’s a personal interest—she volunteers at blood drives, the Human Rights Commission of Dubuque, and the Dubuque Jaycees—but also because volunteering exposes her to situations she would otherwise not encounter in her job.
Several local schools receive invitations to the camp, including Thomas Jefferson Middle School and George Washington Middle School, who were awarded IBM community grants of $1,000 each in 2015 and 2016. Both schools teach young people that success comes through education.
Adrienne co-hosted the camp in 2014 and 2015, and led it by herself in 2016. She oversees every aspect of camp planning: school invitations, activity selection, the purchase of student meals and IBM volunteer recruitment—over 20 other IBM volunteers from the area have helped.
Hands-on, and happy
During the camp, students work in teams to experiment with various STEM principles. The biggest challenge posed to Adrienne and fellow IBM volunteers is keeping the students engaged. The kids want to be challenged, but their age mandates that the activities be fun and accessible, too. For Adrienne, her role has been a lesson in knowing her audience and planning activities around the students’ interests.
Adrienne has IBM activity kits in the three years since she’s hosted the camp, including Driving on Sunshine and Smaller than Small. “Students loved designing their own solar-powered vehicle from the Driving on Sunshine activity,” Adrienne says. “Any activity that allows students the opportunity to work with their hands and be creative keeps them engaged.”
The students work diligently, so when success happens, it’s an opportunity to celebrate. One memorable moment was when one group built an FM radio on a circuit board. “They followed the instructions but were not able to hear any sound on the radio,” Adrienne recalls. “They carried the circuit board all over the room to locate a signal. When they got to the window, the radio started playing a hit song from a local radio station. All four of the boys automatically started dancing! It was so rewarding to see them accomplish a goal they had, and the way they celebrated their accomplishment was so enjoyable to watch.”
Another activity was focused on buoyancy. Students were asked to construct a raft made of aluminum foil, then the group had a contest to see which raft could hold the most pennies. Adrienne brought around 450 pennies certain that would be more than enough. She was wrong. “Two groups built rafts that held all my pennies and were still able to float! I could not believe how sturdy the rafts were, and it demonstrated that I need to come prepared with a lot more pennies.”
Workforce of the future
The annual summer day camp only lasts three days, but Adrienne hopes that the effects extend long after the last activity. She hopes that the camp piques students’ curiosity and that their interest evolves as they get older. “If they continue being enthused about STEM topics, they could potentially carry their enthusiasm through a rewarding career that enables them to change the world,” Adrienne says. “We need bright, curious individuals to fulfill crucial roles in our workforce.”
Even with all that goes into being responsible for young students, Adrienne never loses sight of when the program has been a success. She relies on the students’ honest reactions to let her know whether the activities are making a mark.
“Once, the kids were working on experiments with Newton's Laws of Motion,” Adrienne says. “A girl wanted to show me how high she made one of her items go. It was rewarding to me, the fact that she was so excited, and that she wanted to share her excitement with me. They see me as a mentor and friend.”
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