Weather Updates

Kids learn the science behind career paths

Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: June 12, 2014 11:22AM

SOUTH ELGIN — STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) skills aren’t just for engineers anymore. That’s the message School District U46 is trying to relay as part of its third annual Moving Forward with STEM Summer Camp for students entering sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

South Elgin High School is hosting the camp’s 150 students who are learning about different career fields, including culinary arts, automotive technology, crime scene investigations, broadcasting, fashion design, health care, digital technology and engineering.

Carol DePue, U46 coordinator of career and technical education, said students often take math and science classes and don’t understand their purpose later in life. “The camp helps students connect the dots,” she said.

The goal is to help students get an idea of a career direction before they hit high school and start planning out their class schedules. DePue said STEM camp gives students an understanding of what math and science classes are necessary for various career paths.

DePue knows many kids will change their minds multiple times before they graduate high school. But when students are sitting in math class, at least they will know that the skills they are learning can be applied to many different careers.

DePue said summer camp is just one of the activities hosted by District U46 to promote STEM throughout the year. Other programs include the Science Olympiad where students test their science prowess; tours of colleges like Northern Illinois University’s engineering department, and the spring districtwide STEM Expo, a science fair open to all elementary through high school students.

The district also offers Saturday morning sessions for middle school students aimed at getting non-traditional populations interested in STEM careers, such as involving girls in automotive technology.

DePue said girls generally have better organizational skills than boys, so putting a girl in charge of the tools on a school’s automotive team makes competitive sense.

The program itself has grown from 60-70 campers the first year to hitting the cap of 150 students this year. Both DePue and Assistant Principal Lisa Olsem, who coordinates the camp at her school, said word of mouth has helped the program grow.

Students also want to return.

Olsem said between 25 and 40 students attended camp in previous years, and about 75 percent of all students stay for both morning and afternoon sessions.

The most popular sessions are the engineering and broadcasting ones, which are offered both in the morning and afternoon. Although several other classes are growing so much, they might be offered as both morning and afternoon sessions next year.

Olsem was shocked when career and technical education teacher Steve Schertz said he topped the 20 mark this year in his automotive technology program. Only six students signed up last year.

Another program that’s seen growth is the Innovative Creations session taught by Tushebra Crump, family and consumer science teacher. Her class focuses on creating fashion from recycled materials and cooking, both fields where STEM skills are needed to succeed.

Olsem said culinary arts require both math and science backgrounds. Math is needed to increase or decrease recipe ratios and science for the new trends in cooking, such as molecular gastronomy, which investigates the physical and chemical reactions of ingredients when they are heated or cooled.

The camp, which started Monday, culminates with a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry on Friday.

Getting middle-school aged kids excited about learning in the summer can be challenging.

Olsem said she was thrilled the first day when her 13-year-old son came home from camp with information about what he’d learned that day. Her son, who took the forensics class, was looking forward to working on a crime scene his teacher was setting up in the school.

Olsem added the best review came from a participant last year. “The student said, ‘This was so much better than playing video games all day.’”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.