New Trier STEM camp sparks creativity in young students

The changing job market has created a demand for experience in the “STEM” fields, and New Trier High School is expanding course offerings to its current and future students.

More than 50 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders signed up for New Trier High School’s first ever STEM Camp, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math-related disciplines.

“Every year, we get phone calls from community members interested in where they can send their kids for STEM courses,” said New Trier Technology Education teacher Jason Boumstein. “Other schools host STEM camps, and we felt we should too.”

The week-long camp provides students the opportunity to meet professionals from STEM fields, and the ability to engage in hands-on lessons.

Among the first challenges posed to the attendees was to create a three-finger prosthetic hand, which could grasp and move various items. Having just met their fellow campers, the students dove right into the challenge.

Elizabeth Song, 12, of Northfield, and Sophie Beitel, 13, of Wilmette, brainstormed several ideas, and quickly learned to adapt as needed.

“Our first design kind of worked, but it wasn’t strong enough,” Beitel said. “Elizabeth said let’s use a chopstick design. We made our final design in the last five minutes. It was kind of under-pressure thinking.”

Their final creation was able to pick up seven different objects within the 30-second time limit, and received rave reviews after the challenge.

“The first device we had kind of went haywire,” Song said. “The chopsticks were simple and effective. I love the creativity and experimenting.”

Recent New Trier High School graduates Reiker Seiffe, Elizabeth Lee and Marcello Guadagno both went through New Trier’s STEM program, and were excited to volunteer their time with the young campers.

“It’s learning a new way of thinking,” Guadagno said. “It’s OK to fail as long as you learn and want to try again.”

Zach Gershowitz, 12, of Glenview, and his partner Ryan Lo, 12, of Glenview, both used that advice while creating their prosthetic.

“It’s been tough, because it’s hard to go in and make the joints move using just water pressure,” Gershowitz said. “Our first design didn’t work. This one started kind of by accident, but it works.”

Following the prosthetic challenge, students continued learning, while having a little fun, by creating Alka-Seltzer rockets. The duo with the longest distance won a free pizza, paid for by Boumstein.

“For many of them, it’s the first time working on something with no correct answer,” Boumstein said. “Once they were stumped, we kept pushing them to come up with new ideas. We’re really trying to inspire young kids to think of STEM, and create opportunities for all kids to think about it as a career.”

Other topics discussed at the camp included mechanical engineering, alternative energy, biological engineering, chemical engineering and aerospace engineering.

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