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Professors receive grants for youth summer camps in the sciences

April 13, 2012

Two Drake University professors received grants from Iowa State University as part of Iowa Space Grant Consortium funding. Maria Valdovinos, associate professor of psychology, received a $10,000 grant and Timothy Urness, assistant professor of computer science, received $6,000. Both awards will go toward summer programming for area middle school students.

Valdovinos will help establish a “Wide World of Science Summer Camp” in July 2012, targeting middle school students who are typically underrepresented in the sciences — primarily girls and ethnic minorities. Campers will be involved in various activities representing a range of science disciplines through inquiry-based activities. Drake School of Education students majoring in education with endorsements in science will lead the camp, which will run July 9–14.

Urness will also lead a weeklong camp aimed at middle school students that focuses on changing the perceptions and attitudes around computer science programming. The project is titled, “Let’s Build an App for That.” Eric Manley, assistant professor of computer science, will assist Urness; the two have taught Android and iPhone app programming at a variety of levels at Drake. The camp will run June 4–8 and was filled within 24 hours of the initial announcement; there is currently a waiting list of about 40 students. Urness hopes to present the instructional materials in video format so that more students can watch and follow along at their own pace.

“I think that camps like this, that promote engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, are important to get middle-school students interested and engaged,” Urness says. “In part, the camp is designed to target students while they are still impressionable and get them to think that technology can be interdisciplinary, fun, useful and relevant to their daily lives.”

Both camps address STEM fields, which has been identified as an area of high need in education both in Iowa and in the United States. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad appointed a STEM task force to address the issue, which recently launched a new website at www.iowastem.gov.