, Kids These Days: Getting Young People Interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, Harrington Group Inc

According to the National Math and Science Initiative, an organization formed to address the declining number of students who are adequately prepared for college-level math and science courses, only 44 percent of 2013 high school graduates were ready for college-level math, and 36 percent ready for college-level science. There’s been substantial concern nationwide over the adequacy of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce preparedness for students in the last decade, and it’s no secret that kids tend to shy away from math and science as they get older.

Students in Gwinnett County Public Schools have had the opportunity to dig into hands-on STEM projects and then show off their discoveries for decades at the Gwinnett County Regional Science, Engineering + Innovation Fair. And, for the last two years, Harrington Group’s Principal / Senior Fire Protection Engineer and Combustible Dust Consultant, Dale Hansen, has volunteered to be a judge at the fair.

“It was pretty rewarding to see what the kids come up with and talk with them and encourage them toward a STEM career,” Hansen said.

Middle school and high school students in the county participated in the fair, and Hansen’s role involved examining and judging the middle schoolers’ project and then presenting a combustible dust demonstration during one of their breakout sessions. He was impressed with projects the kids, who aren’t even in high school yet, came up with. For example, a pair of girls investigated the best way to remove all traces of blood evidence from a crime scene; several students tested commercial products to see if allegedly dissolvable wet toilet wipes actually dissolved in water (they didn’t); or which brand of whitening toothpaste removed coffee and tea stains from eggshells.

Hansen was particularly impressed with a team who built rockets out of water bottles and tested different types of fins to determine which would make the rocket go further.

“That idea came to them because they went to some sort of club that happened on Saturdays and that’s what they were doing, launching these rockets,” he said. “They thought, that’s cool, let’s make this into a science fair project.”

As a parent himself, Hansen has helped his own kids with science projects in the past, and his advice to other parents is to encourage kids to embrace the subjects they enjoy.

“I think they have to show a real interest in it to begin with and not be afraid of math,” he said. “But, if a kid shows a real interest in it, get them involved in groups that promote that sort of thing.”

The school year will be winding down before you know it, which means it’s time for parents to start looking into summer camps and programs. For those of you whose kids have STEM ambitions (future fire protection engineers, perhaps?), we’ve put together a list of summer programs they may be interested in:

Discovery Place Summer Camps

Discovery Place: Charlotte, NC

Ages 3-13

STEM Camps

Engineering for Kids: Atlanta, Decatur, Kennesaw, Marietta, Roswell, Sandy Springs, GA

Ages 4-14

Summer Camps: Robotics & Engineering, Extreme Science

Club SciKidz: Woodstock, GA

Ages 4-15

STEM Summer Camps

iD Tech: Locations nationwide

Ages 6-18

The Engineering Place Summer Camps

North Carolina State University: Raleigh, NC

Rising 3rd-12th graders

iEngineer @ UMD; LEGO Robotics Summer Camp

University of Maryland: College Park, MD

Rising 4th-12th graders

Partners for Minorities in Engineering and Computer Science

University of South Carolina: Columbia, SC

Rising 9th-12th graders

Imagination: Science and Math Camp

Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University: Blacksburg, VA

Rising 7th and 8th graders

Summer STEM Overnight

Worcester Polytechnic Institute: Worcester, MA

Rising 7th-12th graders

Women in Engineering Summer Camp

University of Dayton: Dayton, OH

Rising 10th-12th grade girls