This summer UNLV launched a new STEM summer camp for middle school students, one focused specifically on the use of technology in the industries that drive our city – entertainment and hospitality.
“It is probably general knowledge by now that as a city, state, and country, we need more people in STEM industries,” said Emma Regentova, electrical and computer engineering professor and principal investigator of the NSF-funded Vegas STEM Lab. “But stereotypes about STEM disciplines being too hard or boring are abundant. Many students don’t think about how STEM is ingrained in the entertainment and hospitality industry (or about) the STEM-based careers that are available in their own hometown.”
The camp taps current UNLV students, like computer science major Franklin La Rosa, to serve as camp mentors. “I never had this kind of opportunity, so seeing the kids go through all of this, it’s kind of exciting,” La Rosa said. “I would have liked to have this when I was a kid.”
Eryn Aguilar, a fellow camp mentor, added, “I like teaching kids and showing them that STEM is so cool and interesting.”
A student’s belief in their own ability (or inability) to be successful in STEM activities affects their interest in those subjects, and their future career pursuits. The goal of the UNLV STEM Lab is to help middle school students overcome prevailing negative beliefs regarding STEM disciplines and boost their confidence as STEM-capable individuals.
“In addition to simply increasing the number of individuals pursuing STEM, we also need diversity in those fields,” continued Regentova.
The Lab is free for participants and the team worked closely with CCSD to help recruit students, ensuring that participants reflect the demographic makeup of the Las Vegas community in terms of race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, and gender.
This summer the Lab’s 40 middle school students engaged in a variety of activities including tours of university and college labs, talks with faculty, and even a bus trip to the MGM to meet with Jabbawockeez. They learned about light, color, sound and display, met hospitality robots at Black Fire Innovation Center, and investigated how to use sensors, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, motors, and microcontroller based design. The camp culminated in the students developing their own hands-on projects, including a light sword, an animated display, a smart watering system, a solar tracker, a wonder wheel, and more.
According to Dylan Veron, his favorite part was simply learning about new things that he either didn’t know about before, or hadn’t had much interest in. “Just learning about it and seeing how it is used in the real world is quite amazing.”
“My favorite part was learning how to literally make LEDs light up through typing,” shared Rebekah Ellis.
Thanks to funding by the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning program, other middle school students like Dylan and Rebekah will have the opportunity to experience this unique STEM camp over the next two summers.
According to Regentova, in year four of the program there will be a teachers’ workshop for middle school teachers, afterschool care providers and STEM club leaders to share the Labs’ experiences and findings. Forty design kits will also be donated to schools without sufficient technical support.
“We want to study and share how intentionally designed Lab experiences shape students’ understanding of themselves, their future aspirations, and their grasp of the scientific enterprise,” added Regentova.
UNLV's Interdisciplinary Vegas STEM Lab Team
- Emma Regentova, Electrical & Computer Engineering
- Venkatesan Muthukumar, Electrical & Computer Engineering
- Si Jung Kim, Entertainment Engineering and Design
- Jonathan Hilpert, Educational Psychology and Higher Education