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Summer programs at NMSU aim to keep kids captivated

  • By Melisa P. Danho
  • Jul 16, 2012
A swim instructor stands in the water surrounded by three elementary school children, one of whom is using a floating device.
The Sounds of summer at New Mexico State University include everything from swimming pool splashes to vibrating violin strings thanks to the university's community outreach to more than 2,000 young people ranging in age from toddlers to teens.

From science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs to performance and physical activities, NMSU departments host a wide variety of programs for local school children during the summer months at low or no cost to families.

One long-time program is the Southern New Mexico Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy, or SEMAA. This year, SEMAA partnered with the Regional Alliance Summer Science Institute, or RASSI. High school students in the RASSI camp went to the College of Engineering and used robotics kits to turn on motors and gears and create robots that competed in a tug of war. Other camps run by SEMAA this summer included themes such as robotics, renewable energy, rocketry and flight.

Over in Science Hall in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Young Women in Computing or YWiC program is in its seventh year. This summer middle school girls learned how to generate computer models to prove or disprove a hypothesis concerning an environmental issue. High school girls used app software to learn to develop their own application and 3D animation software to create video games and short movies.

"We want students in southern New Mexico to know that computer science is a great career," said Rebecca Galves, program director of YWiC. "According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the actual number of computer science jobs outweighs the number of people available to fill those jobs."

Galves says diversity is important to recruitment in the computer science and technology fields. With the diverse population of southern New Mexico and support for programs like YWiC, Galves believes this region is poised to fill the need for computer science professionals.

In the Music Center building on campus, middle school and high school orchestra camps were in full swing. The band camp has been in place at the university for decades, Katie Tomicek, co-founder of the Southwest Music Academy, helped initiate NMSU's orchestra camps eight years ago in an effort to reach out to more children.

"We help get the kids that are going into sixth grade get familiar with an instrument," Tomicek said. "They choose one on Monday morning, begin practicing on Tuesday and by Friday they're playing a concert for their parents."

The high school students get to hone their skills by working with special clinicians. This year the clinicians came from Albuquerque and California. Participants also play music with students from other high schools and the orchestra and band are put together so that they play in full symphony.

"We try to give the kids a new experience while involving local teachers as well," Tomicek said. "There is value in getting to work with new people and having a chance to practice in the summer."

As the orchestra camps focused on proper pitch and harmony, aquatic center instructors dove into water safety and swimming skills. NMSU's swim school provides lessons for children of various ages and proficiency levels, from those who don't know how to swim to those talented enough to join a swim team.

"The program offers an active way for kids to expel their energy and learn a lifelong skill," said Sasha Garcia, aquatics coordinator at NMSU. Garcia noted that swimming can also be a life saving skill and said children in the program are taught what to do if they were to fall into a swimming pool.

"It's a pleasure to see young children grow from being afraid of the water to paddling around, learning to swim and really enjoying the water," Garcia said.

NMSU's programs are more than a summer diversion for area youth. Program directors say the summer outreach programs that invite young people to college while they are still in public school encourages participants to pursue a college education.