Tomorrow’s Community Innovators offers underrepresented youth new perspective on STEM

By Jeremy Henderson

Published: Jun 13, 2019 12:00:00 AM

Campers and counselors pose at the Tomorrow's Community Innovators camp.  Campers and counselors pose at the Tomorrow's Community Innovators camp.

The Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s research initiatives ran parallel to its outreach efforts in the form of a five-day residential camp for underrepresented teenagers from the Birmingham area.

Hosted and facilitated by the Office of Engineering Student Services on the campus of Auburn University, the Tomorrow’s Community Innovators camp offered more than 20 middle school and high school students exposure to engineering concepts and challenges through an unconventional approach.

“We’re looking to see how involving community-minded kids in a STEM camp that focuses, in part, on making an impact in your community affects how they view STEM,” said Virginia Davis, alumni professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, who helped organize the camp along with Daniela Marghitu, faculty member in Auburn’s Computer Science and Software Engineering Department, assistant materials professor Edward Davis, and Joni Lakin, a faculty member in the College of Education.

Partnering with Alabama STEM Education (ASE), a Bessemer non-profit organization aimed at sparking early interest in STEM, Davis said she geared the camp’s curriculum toward “the community aspects of STEM, not the technological aspects.”

Led by Auburn engineering students, camp sessions have accordingly ranged in topic from sustainability issues to urban infrastructure.  

“The goal isn’t to make them all engineers, but if they want to be politicians or community activists, the goal is to help them see how STEM can also affect their communities,” Davis said.

Camper feedback will factor into investigations into the attitudes of minority youth in underserved communities toward science and engineering, for which Davis, Davis, Marghitu and Lakin recently won a grant from the National Science Foundation.

“We just want to understand how a more community-focused offering vs. a more traditional STEM offering affects the professional identity development and career aspirations of those students,” Davis said.

Camp graduation ceremonies will be held Friday, June 14, from 9:30-10:30 a.m. in the Shelby Center’s McCartney Suite.

“Auburn does a lot of outreach in nearby communities such as Loachapoka and Notasulga, which is great,” Davis said. “But I think this will show that we are reaching out across the state. From our perspective as a land-grant university, helping people see their career options and helping build up communities is pretty important.”

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson, jeremyhenderson@auburn.edu, 334-844-3591

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