From learning how to code in Python, to flying around the Earth in a virtual reality simulation, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Space Science and Engineering Center Tech Camp brought together 11 students and teachers from the Madison Metropolitan School District in August 2019 to learn about atmospheric science and the tools used by SSEC scientists to study the Earth, its atmosphere and the weather.
The inaugural, weeklong course was designed to provide underrepresented students an opportunity to sample a wide-range of skills and technologies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
“The vision for the camp came from SSEC director Brad Pierce who wanted to do something about the achievement gap within the Madison Metropolitan School District,” says Margaret Mooney, SSEC Tech Camp coordinator. “The idea resonated with me because it addresses the gender gap that I’ve experienced in my career.”
In five days, attendees heard from more than 10 speakers about different SSEC research projects including tornado modeling, computer programing, engineering and ice drilling. Several hands-on experiences kept things interesting like VR headset simulations of the Earth and the interactive WxSats program which lets students fly around space and track the Earth’s weather satellites in real-time.
“Making things interactive is the key to keeping kids interested,” says La Follette High School Tech Education teacher Nathan Hataj.
Another teacher, Angie Wilcox-Hull who teaches Advanced Placement environmental science at Madison East High School says she was especially interested in the research topic of ice core drilling. She hopes to share with her students how scientists use data from ice cores to study the state of the atmosphere and how that relates to climate change. She also appreciated the career panel session, where students heard from, and asked questions of, SSEC student employees and early career scientists with diverse educational backgrounds and experiences in the STEM fields.
Looking ahead, Mooney would like to establish ongoing support for programs like the SSEC Tech Camp and as well as scholarships for underrepresented students interested in pursuing STEM education and careers.
August 8, 2019 | Eric Verbeten
This work was supported by SSEC.