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See You At STEM Camp-Live and In Person

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

We look forward to welcoming back, after a one-year pause, the Verizon STEM camp for girls in July. I’ve asked Joanne Smith, ICC/Fab Lab ICC VIL Rural Young Women’s STEM Program Director to be my guest columnist this week to tell us all about it. In addition to directing this camp, Joanne is owner of FAB Creative Services, LLC and Southeast Kansas Living Magazine. We’re both pleased and fortunate that Joanne makes time to direct this camp and help Fab Lab ICC with many of our marketing projects. 

   It’s springtime, and thanks to waning pandemic conditions in our area, we are back in business and gearing up for a new year in the Verizon Innovative Learning (VIL) Rural Young Women’s STEM Program at Independence Community College and Fab Lab ICC.  

   The annual program is sponsored by the Verizon Foundation, which has made a long-term commitment to support youth STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education for underserved populations - both boys and girls - including children in lower socio-economic environments and rural communities with less access to opportunities. ICC and its Fab Lab were accepted into the program in 2017 and are among approximately 22 community colleges nationwide who have received grant funding specifically to provide STEM education for rural girls. The underlying goal is to help close the "digital divide" between males and females and help more girls develop an interest in STEM careers. Summer camp is followed by monthly Saturday workshops throughout the school year, September-May. 

   The program was paused for a year after the pandemic broke last spring. This allowed Verizon and its partner organizations, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) and Arizona State University (ASU), the opportunity to regroup, rethink and revise program standards and curriculum to be flexible and deliverable in varied formats, according to prevailing pandemic conditions by the time summer camp rolls around. The program is now designed to be delivered either fully in-person, fully virtually or in a hybrid format, as circumstances necessitate. At Fab Lab ICC, we have opted to provide camp fully in-person, with all necessary safety precautions in place. We feel this is the best way to offer the girls an optimal experience. 

  The VIL program is truly a one-of-a-kind opportunity in our region and is exceptional for many reasons. First of all, it’s available to up to 100 girls. Secondly, it’s entirely FREE to the girls and their families. Transportation, breakfast and lunch are provided, and the girls will have access to amazing technology and instruction, including augmented and virtual reality, coding and circuits, 3D design and printing and, new this year, artificial intelligence and robotics.  

   Built into the program are concepts in entrepreneurship, design thinking and problem solving. At STEM camp, girls find new areas of interest, using technology they’ve never touched before and have fun with subjects they may never really have enjoyed before.  

   It’s an environment where innovation is limited only by imagination and where girls from all different backgrounds form a community of excited learners and make new friends in the process. The program also motivates them to think more broadly about the world around them and begin to consider their own futures. We teach them there are no boundaries, no limitations to their potential. There are not “girl” professions and “boy” professions, there are just wide open possibilities. 

    Here, the seemingly bottomless energy of teen and pre-teen girls finds a positive outlet, giving them a structured agenda on out-of-school days when they might otherwise be spending their time less constructively. Our instructors, hand-picked from area school districts, work hard to optimize the experience with balanced doses of learning and laughing, and everyone comes out better in the end. 

   Camp dates this year are July 12-31, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. We meet on the ICC campus and, for those three weeks, take over most of the available space at the Fab Lab, as well as several campus classrooms and, at lunch time, the dining hall. It’s loud, it’s exhausting, it’s exhilarating and it’s extremely rewarding. Registration is open now. If you know a middle school girl who would benefit from this experience, please share this link: 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at Archive columns and podcasts at 

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