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Suppose you visit the North Carolina Center for Engineering Technologies (NCCET) in June and July. In that case, you will encounter eager-bright-eyed elementary, middle and high school-aged children ready to learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). NCCET, located in Hickory, North Carolina, services a slightly older audience during the other ten months. The center provides facilities for applied research in engineering-related professions and serves as a conduit to baccalaureate education delivered by the University of North Carolina system schools. 

During these two months, Appalachian State University partners with North Carolina State University to host various Innovation Camps concentrated on engineering, construction, robotics and coding for rising first through tenth graders. The goal of these camps is to introduce students to STEM through a week-long camp dedicated to interactive, hands-on activities. 

The Innovation Camps program is entering its 12th year but the camps didn’t start as the STEM camp they are today. The program began because of the NCCET vision to train teachers to implement STEM activities in their classrooms. It transformed into a Future Engineers and Robotics camp for students. Since then, the Innovation Camps have grown, adding coding and construction to the list of topics creating an environment where young students can flex their creative and innovative muscles. 

The Future Engineers Camp manager, Gina Houston, expressed excitement about the camps. “We have students from out of state and local kids and we’re excited for what this year’s camps will bring.” During the camps, campers learn about STEM and how to problem-solve, work as a team, ask the right questions and persevere translates into achievement long after the camp. Activities included engineering a simple water transportation system, coding video games to be accessible to people with disabilities, building and programming robots and partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build decks. 

NC State Industry Expansion Solutions director of business development and management Steven Hughes visited NCCET in early April and was impressed with the projects that former campers designed. “In one of the camps, the kids built a dog house. They learn how to measure materials, fit a roof and wire the lighting inside. They have an entire room with tools dedicated to the building process and a warehouse full of engineering products and games. I thought it was a neat concept to develop further interest in building and inventing things. The shortage of blue-collar and white-collar talent in manufacturing exacerbates the need to cultivate interest in young people about these career paths.”  

Houston agrees. She expressed the hope that the campers will pursue a career in STEM in the future and be inspired to move back to Hickory for employment, bolstering the local economy. “It would be great if some kids come back to Hickory after graduating to work here and help local businesses. We have a couple of students who have won Morehead scholarships and they’re in the engineering programs at NC State,”  Houston continues, “We’ve talked to them and many have said that our camps are what sparked their desire to become an engineer. They say that they still use the engineering song we taught them in camp.”

Even if campers don’t pursue a career in STEM, she’s happy that they get to experience something new and learn essential life lessons. “What I’m most proud of is by the end of the week, they learn that failure is okay and that you learn more from failure than you do from getting it right the first time. Parents tell me year after year that their kids told them that they wanted to quit the first day because they weren’t used to failing that much but when the campers stick it out by the end of the week, you can tell how proud the participants are of themselves because of the progress they made.”

This year’s camps include the Robotics Camp, Builders Boot Camp, Future Engineers Camp Coding Camp and Engineering Pioneers Camp. The deadline to apply is May 13. 

Learn more about the NCCET Innovation Camps »