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On the path to STEM careers: FCA US, Ivy Tech held inaugural STEM camp for boys

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SUNDAE SCHOOL — (Left to right) Jace Smith, Matthew McKitrick, AJ Finney, and Kalef Samuel make ice cream during a hands-on experience during a two-day STEM camp sponsored by FCA US in partnership with Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Region.

From hand-making ice cream to concocting magnetic slime, sixth- to eighth-grade boys got hands-on in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math last week during the inaugural STEM Camp sponsored by FCA US.

The camp came on the heels of the successful Gearing Up Girls for STEM camp that started in 2018 as a way of introducing young girls to STEM fields in the hopes of inspiring more women to enter the professions. Organizers heard from many parents over the girls' sessions, saying that they wished there also was a similar STEM camp for boys.

FCA employees answered the call and offered the first camp late last month. While the girls’ camp was headed up by female engineers from FCA, the boys’ camp was led by men from FCA. The group was made up of FCA employees at all levels and specialties, including executives, engineers, managers, and UAW members.

“I think it’s good to give back in the community that you work in and help teach the next generation of young men what it’s like in the real world,” said FCA employee Sean Olson. “Instead of just seeing their parents go to and from work, they get to work with people that are from Kokomo’s largest employer.”

Olson and the other FCA employees showed the 32 young participants what manufacturing was like through science experiments and dabbling with equipment used in the plants, such as robots.

“They got to use the robots to see how they move, just have them get their feelers out for what it’s like. A lot of kids don’t know what they want to do at this age when they grow up, so this is a way for them to experience what they might dream about in the future,” he said.

Other experiments involved physics, biochemistry, biology, aerodynamics, advanced manufacturing, and virtual reality.

The summer STEM camps come at a time when the issue of workforce development continues to be at the forefront of economic development discussions in Indiana.

“We’re still trying to get younger generations excited for careers in STEM, seeing as we have a lot of STEM-related jobs at FCA. We want to use it as a pipeline to get kids excited for what they could do and eventually see career paths going in STEM, whether that’s FCA or other places,” FCA employee Matt Daily said. “What you’ll see is a shortage in STEM-related fields, so as those job requirements continue to grow, we want the number of people interested in that to continue to grow as well.”

For participant Matthew McKitrick, he said he appreciated the hands-on learning opportunities.

“I wish they taught like this in school. You don’t have to sit at your desk. You get to do a lot of activities,” McKitrick said.

His favorite activity was making the homemade ice cream, starting with ice. The experiment taught the participants about the chemistry that goes into making the sweet dessert. By adding salt to the ice, the temperature at which water freezes was lowered, allowing the ice to melt while the ice cream ingredients started to freeze.

“It was really cool. It tastes just like regular ice cream,” McKitrick said.

The boys were able to add a variety of toppings to their finished product.

Ken Perry, associate professor of industrial technology and workforce consultant for Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Region, said Ivy Tech was proud to partner with FCA for the camp, citing the importance of steering more youth into STEM-related fields.

Sponsors of the STEM camp included Chick-fil-A, United Auto Workers Local 685, Mid State Engineering, Caron & Jones Dental Care, and Security Federal Savings Bank.

The camp is slated to return June 2020.