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Local Middle Schoolers Build a Bridge, Blow up a Watermelon and More at PECO-Drexel STEM Camp

Local students attend PECO-Drexel STEM Camp

August 08, 2014

Nearly 25 local rising fifth graders interested in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) built a bridge, blew up a watermelon and made ice cream, as part of a Summer STEM Camp from July 28 – August 1, the third and final week of the camp this year.

The students toured the Boeing Co., the Franklin Institute and Lancaster Science Factory

The camp is hosted by Drexel University's School of Education and funded by a grant from PECO.

“Summer STEM Camp allows children to experience a variety of STEM careers and career pathways,” said Hope Yursa, PhD, camp director and an assistant clinical professor in the School of Education. “Each day the children participated in a variety of hands on activities, but then they actually got to go into the field to experience real-life applications.”

For example, decked out in hard hats, lab coats and goggles, the students were actively engaged in building different types of bridges from limited materials, before visiting the Ben Franklin Bridge to learn from bridge engineers about what their job entails and how they entered the field.

While on a trip to learn about hydroelectric power, the campers took advantage of what they learned about bridges to find and identity the many bridges that cross the Chesapeake River Basin.

The campers took home the bridge-building kits to continue their learning. The camp also provided each camper with a fiction book and informational book about the various STEM fields and the people involved in them.


During a unit that provided an introduction to thermodynamics and heat transfer, teams of campers developed plans to save penguins.

They then traveled to the Philadelphia Zoo to learn more about what is endangering penguins and polar bears, and saw a variety of people engaged in careers that involved educating the public about loss of habitat due to global warming.

The camp engages students with hands-on workshops and activitiesThe students, who attend nearby schools, including Morton McMichael Elementary School, Martha Washington Elementary School and Samuel Powel Elementary School also toured the Boeing Co., the Franklin Institute and Lancaster Science Factory as part of the camp.

The Summer STEM camp was developed to introduce children in West Philadelphia to careers in the STEM areas of construction, transportation, energy and communication. The camp engages students with hands-on workshops and activities.

The camp is free for students, and includes breakfast and lunch each day.

In 2012, PECO awarded Drexel a $1 million grant to help create a collaborative education program that invests in the local community. About $150,000-$200,000 of the grant was dedicated to the STEM camp, which is now in its third and final year.

Students created small chemical reactions, like making ice creamThe camp began as a one-week initiative focused on rising fifth-graders. The second year, Drexel increased it to two weeks, for fifth- and sixth-graders, respectively. This year, the camp is three weeks, and catered to fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders.

The camp’s staff is made up primarily of faculty and students from the School of Education. The lead counselor was Mike Franklin, a graduate of the School of Education, who currently teaches at Arthur Elementary School in Philadelphia.

Other counselors included Jileesa McFadden, a 2013 graduate of the School of Education, who has a secondary certification in biology and is currently teaching biology at a Mastery Charter High School; Lindsay McArdle, a 2014 graduate, who received her bachelor's degree in elementary education; Sarah Anderson, who is finishing a combined bachelor’s and master’s program this year; and Cynthia Casebere, who is currently pursuing her master’s degree in education.

Students built bridges using limited suppliesCounselor Shane Miller, who is not a student in the School of Education, is interested in educational research and is currently working with Drexel to develop an application for mobile devices called the Adolescent Comprehension Evaluation (ACE) to measure reading comprehension for sixth to 12th grade students.

Also integral to the program was Obinna Otti, Drexel’s RAD Lab manager, who took photos and videos, and Joel Rodriguez, videography instructor and associate director of innovation, who teaches part-time in the teacher education program.

The principle investigators on the grant, Yursa and William Lynch, PhD, dean of the School of Education, are looking into funding sources to keep the camp going after this year.