By Corey Poole
Members at the Boys and Girls Club in Natchitoches received certificates July 29 for completing a weeklong technology camp themed: Educate, Engage, Explore. This aligned the Natchitoches club with the Boys and Girls Club of America’s STEM initiative.
Faculty from the engineering and education departments at Northwestern State University worked with club members to build robots, teaching them STEM concepts along the way. Faculty included Ramona Wynder, Curtis Desselles, NabinSapkota and Jafar Al-Sharab.
In addition to the STEM concepts, the children were also engaged in STEM hands-on learning activities and given the opportunity to explore STEM careers. Topics covered included basic electronics, basic robotics and basic computer programming.
The group toured Alliance Compressors, the North West Louisiana Technical College and Weyerhaeuser to see how technology is used in the workplace.
After teaching several robotics camps through the university, Desselles saw a need for a larger demographic in his camps. He wanted to make it accessible to kids within the community that may be unable to make it to the ones held on NSU’s campus.
Someone suggested he work with the Boys and Girls Club, and with the help of Mike Wolff with the Natchitoches Community Alliance, they were able to secure a grant through the United Way.
Curtis focused the camp on general science principles, applying them to real work applications. Ramona worked to incorporate literacy and academic vocabulary, asking the camp members to journal about their experiences.
“We’re always working to close the educational gaps,” said Ramona. “One way we do this is by extending services we have at NSU to the community and not just the people in campus.”
While this is the first camp of its kind, Deselles and the others hope to continue their work by adding reading, math and a more structured classroom environment in the future. This can be reached by incorporating several students at NSU’s educational department, who routinely do field work at the Boys and Girls Club.
The club was given leftover money from the grant to purchase three laptops, a 3D printer and a robotics kit so the club members can continue to learn and explore.
“My favorite part of the camp was working with the robots,” said 11-year-old Alexander Jackson, a student at the Natchitoches Junior High-Frankie Ray Jackson. “I didn’t know how they worked before, but we learned about the algorithms to program the robots.”