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STEM branches out: Camp broadens students

By Mackenzie Mays, Staff writer
CHIP ELLIS | Gazette photos
Teagan Waugh, 14, of Princeton, and fellow students work to make a clear shoe print at WVU-Tech on Monday as part of a forensic science course. The class is one of several offered to high school students across the state for Camp STEM.
WVU-Tech forensic science professor Lara Rutherford teaches high school students on Monday how to pay attention to the details — such as those in shoe prints — when investigating a crime scene.
Tarryn Walker, of Oak Hill, and Allison Holmstrand, of Wheeling Park, test a chemical reaction during Camp STEM on Monday at WVU-Tech’s campus in Montgomery.
Amiri Bartley, of Man, and Sophia Bakar, of Spring Mills, team up for a chemistry experiment at the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) camp Monday at WVU-Tech.

Blood was splattered on the wall.

The footprints linked back to a size-10 pair of Reeboks.

The scene was the West Virginia University Institute of Technology.

But there was no real crime — it was a forensic science course on Monday afternoon as part of WVU-Tech’s Camp STEM.

“That’s one of my favorite parts — the gory stuff,” said Teagan Waugh, a 14-year-old from Princeton.

Waugh was among about 70 high school students from across the state at the week-long camp on the Tech campus, where faculty teach a range of courses from biomedical engineering and “unusual chemistry” to auto repair and computer science.

The camp is sponsored by such companies as AT&T, Toyota and Dow and is an attempt to get more young people interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields of study while also giving them a glimpse into the college experience.

For Waugh, who wants to major in forensic science when she goes off to college in a few years, it doesn’t take much convincing.

“I don’t want to have one of those boring, typical office jobs,” she said. “I really love math, but most kids don’t. I think fun camps like this can change that.”

That’s the goal, said Camp STEM director Kimberlyn Gray.

“We’re doing more and more in the STEM fields. Engineering is still one of those fields where we’re retiring more people than we’re graduating. We’re holding more and more up in the sciences, but the interest rates in those fields is still hovering around 4 to 5 percent,” Gray said. “It’s something I think that people don’t know what it is, and it’s hard to get interested in it because they don’t see it.

“So we’re trying to provide them more opportunities to do those things,” Gray said.

Twenty classes are offered during the camp, and students are encouraged to try as many out as they can, regardless of their preferences, Gray said.

“This isn’t something that’s easy to experience. They’re not subjects. Outside of biology and chemistry, [students] don’t really get to see that in high school. And I think that’s why this is a really good thing,” she said.

Millie Marshall, president of Toyota West Virginia, which is also a sponsor of the summer program, said getting young students interested in STEM fields is a way to improve the state as a whole.

“There is no better time than now for ambitious students to enter STEM-related fields as demand across our country rises in many areas,” Marshall said. “I learned early in my Toyota career about the importance of STEM and how it helps us continuously improve our safety and quality. I encourage students who are interested in STEM fields to learn the fundamentals, hone their skills and seek a mentor who can always help you improve. There’s no best way — only a better way of doing things.”

The camp ends Friday with a final project that will challenge students to design and build a cardboard canoe that can carry a student across the WVU-Tech swimming pool.

For more information on the camp, visit www.wvutech.edu.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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