Sneaking Science into Summer

0035Jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are expected to grow by 17 percent through 2018—nearly double that of other fields—but only one in four of those jobs are currently held by women, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. So how do we get our children, especially girls, excited about STEM? Summer camps!

Science fun

Just as innovative moms have learned to sneak spinach and blueberries into chocolate cupcakes while maintaining their delectability, several camps in Rochester are sneaking science into summer while keeping them fun.

    They do it by mixing creative, hands-on science experiences—such as making musical instruments out of cardboard boxes and baking s’mores in a solar oven—with outdoor activities like swimming and canoeing. They also employ high school and college-age students to engage kids and assist the programs’ skilled presenters.

    “I’ve seen kids come in for the first time [to Legos Robotics camp] who are not into it,” says Ryan Bacon, sports and camp coordinator for the Rochester Area Family YMCA. “But once they experience it, they change their thoughts and by the end are getting into and love it.”

    The YMCA offers two academic day camps: Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) Camp and Legos Robotics, both running every week all summer long.

    SET camp offers students ages 11–14 a chance to do things like design and build weight-bearing bridges. Lego Robotics camp gives students grades 3–5 a chance to build and program robots out of a pile of Legos. Visit

Inventive camps

Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC) offers two kinds of academic camps: Camp Invention and three STEM camps.

    At Camp Invention, girls and boys grades 1–6 can build a magnet-powered city and learn how to reuse parts from old appliances to build new inventions.

    The STEM camps allow students grades 3–5 to become junior forensic scientists by analyzing handwriting and blood samples, Lego robot builders and programmers at Lego League Boot Camp or doctors-in-training by exploring genetic diseases, veterinary medicine, anatomy and microbiology.

    These classes are so fun kids return year after year. “Parents are telling me that kids are having a great time and are anxious to get signed up,” says Colleen Landherr Maddox, community and youth program director at RCTC.

    Need-based scholarships are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Visit

The natural sciences

Science camps at Quarry Hill Nature Center explore animal and plant life. “The hands-on, inquiry-based programs we run appeal to the natural curiosity in a child,” says Quarry Hill outreach coordinator Lori Forstie.

    Every year, approximately 2,200 boys and girls attend Quarry Hill camps to spy on nocturnal animals, catch and brand red-tail hawks or build natural shelters while hunting for the biggest trees in Quarry Hill.

    The variety of camps for different ages contributes to Quarry Hill’s appeal. “As kids get older, they have more opportunities [at Quarry Hill] to get out in the field and use other techniques and have opportunities to grow in knowledge,” says Forstie. Visit

Marlene Petersen is a freelance writer in Rochester.