Island University STEM-Tronics Camp Combines Technology and Creativity

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Mechanical owls, surfing Izzy’s, LED clothing, and security alarms are just a few of the projects created by area middle school students during STEM-Tronics, a summer camp hosted by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s College of Science and Engineering. The camp, which is co-sponsored by the Coastal Bend Community Foundation, gives participants the opportunity to use state-of-the-art technologies to enterprise a variety of electrical engineering projects.

“You get to put things together, see if they work, modify them to work better, and make things with your own hands,” said Leela Navele, a 13-year-old Baker Middle School student and camp participant. “It gives me pride. You see something that you’ve worked on for a long time and watching it come to life is like ‘wow!’”

The camp, which was led by Dr. Jose Baca with assistance from Island University engineering majors, was split into two sessions, each with a series of different activities geared to push students to the next level.

“We’re teaching university-level knowledge at a younger age,” said Baca, Assistant Professor of Engineering at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “STEM-Tronics offers kids a unique opportunity to become familiar with engineering earlier in their academic career, which gives them a competitive edge both before and after entering college.”

STEM-Tronics I, held June 3-7, focused on electrical engineering theory. Students learned the basics of electronics, studied how to use microcontrollers, and connected components like sensors and LEDS together. With their newfound knowledge, campers created security alarms that played songs from “Harry Potter” and “The Pirates of the Caribbean.”

“I love working with the kids,” said Leeann Newton, an Island University electrical engineering major and camp mentor. “They get excited about pursuing a career in a sometimes-intimidating field like engineering. It makes me glad for the future.”

During STEM-Tronics II, held June 17-21, students worked in teams to bring their creations to life. One of the culminating projects, a mechanical owl, required participants to build a functional robot. By combining software code with electronic pieces like motors, they built owls with moveable eyes and wings.

“I’ve been learning about programming and engineering since fifth grade,” said Shiloh Sawyer, a 12-year-old Gregory-Portland Middle School student who attended both sessions. “I want to learn how certain things work and which components go together so I can use this knowledge to build something of my own one day.”

Another project campers created was an electronic jack-in-the-box. The box’s wooden pieces were cut in the I-Create Lab and then assembled by students with an electronic motor. Students programmed the speed of the box’s lid and customized its design with colored markers.  

“I didn’t get these opportunities back in my younger years,” said Mason Myers, an Islander electrical engineering major and camp mentor, “so it’s great to see kids interested in this kind of material. It amazes me how much they’ve grown from this hands-on experience.”

Thanks to the Coastal Bend Community Foundation, 70 scholarships were offered to cover the cost of this year’s camp.