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Programming for Next Generation: Saint Leo University Summer Robotics Camps Boost STEM Skills, Self-Esteem

Destiny Sommer and Lydia Nystrom work with their robotIf they build it, they will learn. For the fourth year, Saint Leo University offered robotics camps aimed at girls so they could build, program, and more.

The goal of the Girls Can! Robotics Camps is to increase the number of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and open young girls’ eyes to the opportunities in STEM fields, said Dr. Monika Kiss, of Saint Leo University’s mathematics faculty. Kiss began offering the summer day camps in 2015. This summer, because of many requests, Saint Leo also offered a robotics day camp for boys, which was held May 29 to June 1.

The class of 20 boys worked with Kano computer kits, learning to code. Murmurs of “this is so cool,” echoed through Room 317 of Kirk Hall, as they worked on coding and constructing the ever-popular Minecraft game.

Kayla Weber, who earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Saint Leo in April, assisted the boys along with Rachel Wise, a student at Stetson University College of Law. Both returned for a second year of assisting Kiss as they liked working with the Girls Can! Robotics Camp last year.

boys robotics campThe boys said their dream jobs include being lawyers, engineers, pilots, programmers, and more, Wise said.

But the main emphasis of the summer program is on the girls. This year, the university added an overnight camp July 10 – 13 for ages 10 to 15 with prior robotics experience. They not only had the opportunity to explore science and math, but also the chance to experience campus life by staying in a residence hall. And they also participated in other organized activities. One of the most popular: swimming in the Marion Bowman Pool.

A day camp also took place July 16 – 20, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.

The Saint Leo campers learn to build LEGO® Mindstorm robots and spend time learning programming.

As a part of programing, they use their mathematical skills to design algorithms, their science skills to figure out what their robot can and can't do, and their problem-solving skills to come up with excellent programs, Kiss said. In addition to the academic skills they gain by learning to program, they also learn a lot of soft skills, such as teamwork, communication skills, leadership skills, and improved self-confidence.

programming class“I really like the hands-on learning,” said Zoe Martineau, who will be an eighth-grader at Progress Village Middle Magnet School in Tampa, FL.

“It is so cool,” chimed in her robotics partner Ariel Cochrane, who will be an eighth-grader at Centennial Middle School, which is a STEM magnet school in Dade City, FL. This is her third year to attend Saint Leo’s Girls Can! Robotics Camps. “It is cool to learn more about programming. Most of the robotics programs are geared toward boys. But this is for girls.”

Lydia Nystrom, a student at Saint Anthony Catholic School in San Antonio, FL, said that while science isn’t her favorite subject, she finds the camp “really fun.” Her robotics partner Destiny Sommer also a Saint Anthony student, said she likes to learn about robotics and program. She hopes to be a nurse while Lydia one day hopes to be a doctor in family medicine.

Dr. Monika Kiss discusses programmingSaint Leo’s robotics camps also serve as an outreach vehicle for the community. “I love our university, and I believe that it is our responsibility to be leaders in our community,” said Kiss, the director of the camps. “One way I feel that I can use my gifts as a mathematics professor and a robotics instructor is to help encourage young people by offering them STEM camps. The focus is middle-schoolers. We see that many students lose interest in mathematics and hard sciences in middle school. Offering summer camps, provides us with an opportunity to be a part of our larger community and also show students what it feels like to attend Saint Leo University.”

The overnight campers’ shirts reinforce a positive message for the girls:

I can learn anything.

I can be anything.

I am a robotics girl!

 

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