“This is definitely a good use of my summer,” said Siri Doddi, 12, a rising eighth-grader at Kilmer Middle School.
Siri is one of about 20 students enrolled in a weeklong Rocket Man camp at Thomas Jefferson. The school’s Summer Tech Institute through Aug. 10, with about 170 students signed up for classes each week. Some classes, such as Rocket Man, last one week; others can span multiple weeks.
Science, technology, engineering and math-themed summer camps for students are proving a popular option this year. New or expanding programs offered at such places as Summer Tech Institute and George Mason University are seeing increases in enrollment, interest and offerings, educators said.
“I think that the technology fields, the math fields are becoming more popular in general,” said Rusty Hodges, assistant director of student activities at Thomas Jefferson. “The classes fill up pretty quickly. . . . A lot of parents, especially in this area, are very interested in STEM.”
Courses at Summer Tech Institute cost $200 per week and are open to rising eighth- and ninth-graders. This year, Thomas Jefferson gave more than 170 scholarships to low-income students attending the camp. The scholarships were paid for through Thomas Jefferson’s corporate sponsors, such as Northrop Grumman.
Students said they are excited about STEM-camp options.
“Normally, at home, we would just be sitting around and not learning anything,” said Yash Jain, 12, a Rachel Carson Middle School rising eighth-grader. Yash, who enjoys sports, said summer is a good time to focus on science and technology camps.
“Next week, I’m doing oceanography,” he said. “You can play sports anytime. But you can’t launch a rocket anytime.”
George Mason STEM-themed summer programs include several engineering for kids camps, mathematics and technology for talented youth, science, robotics and computer game design camps.
“We’re at capacity. The camp started last Monday. There are a total of 40 slots available, and those filled up by late March,” said Matt Nolan, computer game design instructor. “We did have a substantial waiting list” of about 10 students.
The computer game design program is divided into two sections of students 9 to 12 and 13 to 18. The camp lasts two weeks and costs $375.
“If I wasn’t doing this, I would be playing video games at home,” said recent Edison High School graduate Jina Pounds, 18, one of about 20 students enrolled in the program this summer.
Pounds said the summer program is an opportunity for her to gain an edge in a world where employers are looking more toward computer-savvy candidates.
“If you can keep up in the real world, you become very, very valuable. So, if you can do a camp like this, it can build your portfolio,” she said. “I told my friend, ‘I have to go do my video game homework.’ And my friend said, ‘That’s the best sentence ever [spoken].’ ”
Rising Robinson Secondary School senior Noah Green, 17, said the computer game design program, which teaches students to engineer their own games using software, is an opportunity to explore a career field he is interested in.
“I want to know how to create the games and the programs that go into it,” said Green, who was put on the waiting list before gaining admission to the program. “It was not easy to get into. I sent in an application in January, and I was waiting to get in until June.”
The wait was worth it, he said.
“Right now, we’re creating a live-action role-playing game. . . . I’m trying to make this my main career,” Green said.
Educators said STEM-themed summer programs are an opportunity to expose students to the fun side of science, technology, engineering and math. The programs serve as a kind of outreach, they said, to gain students’ interests.
“The goal here is to really have the students engrossed in the hands-on element,” said Thomas Jefferson teacher John LaFever, who teaches the Rocket Man program.