Helping protect our world’s energy future can be as complicated as developing an innovative technology to cleanly meet our growing electricity needs or as simple as turning off light switches when you aren’t in a room. At Idaho National Laboratory’s STEM Scholars summer camp in July 2022, students in eastern Idaho learned more about how they can make a difference as our world grapples with a growing energy crisis.
Lasting four weeks, the camp worked its way from early elementary to late elementary, middle and high school students. The program’s theme was net-zero carbon emissions, and campers were led through age-appropriate learning experiences that helped them understand the science and technology involved with clean energy.
“It was very gratifying to see kids coming in without a lot of knowledge about what they can be doing to protect the environment and leaving with the recognition that even the smallest things can have big impact,” said Sunshine Shepherd, one of the program’s curriculum coordinators. “They were talking about how they were going to start turning off lights and recycling. We were able to reach so many students.”
Embedded within the STEM Scholars camp was a clean energy-focused camp for high school students. As part of the Bioenergy Research and Education Bridge Program, or BRIDGEs, funded by the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office, the week featured regional bioenergy feedstocks and solid waste-to-energy case studies developed by INL’s K-12 STEM education team. The camp also included demonstrations from INL researchers Kaleb Houck and Gabriella Morales.
“We had several students who showed up at camp not sure how some of the subjects would apply to them, and by the end, they were approaching us asking about how they could be considered for high school internships at INL,” said Houck, an INL digital engineer.
Other activities at the clean energy camp included touring hydroelectric and wind installations, virtually exploring nuclear reactors and learning more about each of these carbon-free resources. The other camps included field trips to the Idaho Falls Zoo and a garden center, and presentations from Bureau of Land Management staff members.
The STEM Scholar team worked hard to attract students from all over eastern Idaho, focusing on participants from underrepresented, more rural communities.
“Not every student is able to learn about net-zero efforts in school,” Shepherd said. “They all left our camp with a baseline knowledge of how to reduce their carbon footprint.” Shepherd said some students even spent the week at homes of local family members or friends so they could experience the camp.
This camp attracted nearly 300 students, almost twice as many as the 2021 camp. The event required significant effort from INL’s K-12 STEM Education team, INL researchers and many volunteers.
“As the program has grown in size, it’s also grown more diverse,” said Gregg Losinski, another curriculum coordinator for the K-12 STEM Education team. “With students from all over coming to the program and offering their unique perspectives, the kids were able to learn so much not just from the teachers and presenters, but from each other.”