Guest post by Briana Bennett, Bay Area Director of BlueStamp Engineering
It’s 2020 and as modern STEM technology continues to improve, it has branched out to become more interdisciplinary than ever before. If a student is interested in music, sports, medicine, fashion, sustainability, space travel, or any other profession they can imagine, they are probably going to be working with technology in some way. Though this is true, the opportunities available for high schoolers to get hands-on, real-world experience in engineering or technology are minimal in a traditional school setting. There’s just not enough time to cover all of the required subjects. If your student is interested in STEM, they may want to consider getting this experience through a summer camp.
When examining the variety of STEM-specific summer opportunities, there are some important considerations. Let’s look at some things to consider when choosing one with your student.
Learning comes in many forms. In a typical classroom, teachers don’t always get the opportunity to cater to the needs and interests of each student. Lectures do well to serve up a lot of information, but it’s not always easy to remember that information. Research shows that experiential learning helps students to retain knowledge. It’s easier to explain something you’ve done than it is to explain something you’ve only heard. It’s even easier if it’s an experience you were passionate about.
Consider a program where your student can get hands-on experience. Students often learn best when they are allowed the time to deeply explore a topic by doing it themselves. Doing allows students an opportunity for trial and error, to learn from their mistakes, to persevere, and to understand the gaps between theory and practice. In this way, getting hands-on experience is a great way to demystify what it actually means to “be an engineer” or “be a scientist.” Most college students don’t actually make projects until a few years into their degrees. That isn’t the ideal time for your student to discover that they really liked electrical engineering in theory, but not so much in practice.
Let’s face it, sometimes landing that perfect internship or providing an influential recommendation letter is all about who you know. When looking for an extracurricular program for your student, you may want to consider the types of connections they will be exposed to. Are there opportunities to meet industry leaders or be part of an alumni association? Are there advanced learning or internship prospects after the program? Even in high school, the connections you make can lead to future opportunities.
Getting into college and landing a great internship are each getting increasingly competitive. Why not give your student the opportunity to do a summer program they enjoy, but that will also look good on their college applications? Many programs offer certificates, but don’t provide a student the tools to sell their new skills. Look for a program that not only teaches technical skills, but gives the student an opportunity to showcase their work in a portfolio and teaches important communication skills. Project portfolios are an impressive deliverable to take a student from summer program to college application. Additionally, consider programs that are focused not only on providing an excellent summer experience, but can support your student as they start thinking about the future. Will they write recommendation letters or give advice on college programs that might be a good fit?
You might be saying to yourself, “Summer is a couple of months away and there’s plenty of time to think about this.” The reality, however, is that most summer programs begin taking applications in October and by April are finalizing their rosters for the summer. Now is really the best time for your student to explore their options, get applications out there, and make sure they are set up to have an amazing summer!
About the Author
Briana Bennett is the Bay Area Director of BlueStamp Engineering, a six-week, hands-on summer program where high school students build technology projects they’re passionate about. She uses her experience in educational nonprofits, as well as with tech companies in the Bay Area, to support students with interest in STEM.