I have led the USDA Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEAM) Summer Camp for five years, and this summer’s program was one of the best yet!
For two weeks, 20 students focused on the theme “Challenge: Earth 2050”, a project-based and team-focused learning experience for high-school students at the George Washington University (GW) in Washington, DC. The teams were presented with the real-world dilema that we will face in 2050, when the world’s population will reach 9.1 billion, 34 percent higher than today. Their challenges were related to urban agriculture, food security and sustainability, hunger and poverty, water and drought, by utilizing USDA-provided data sets, as well as original research. Also, faculty were onsite to provide guidance.
The team working on urban agriculture looked at how community gardens help neighborhoods in food deserts and reduce the distance food has to travel, cutting both pollution and the loss of food nutrient value. The team working on food security and sustainability focused on identifying the pros and cons of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The team working on hunger and poverty focused on the disparity in the average cost of living in the District, Maryland and Virginia (the DMV). The team also looked at poverty rates and how and why military families and children are disproportionately affected. The water and drought team brought to our attention the challenges of a reduced clean water supply by 2050 and how the effects of climate change in agriculture will affect all of us. They also developed a framework of an app to help people conserve water.
All of the students also learned from two field trips. A trip the University of the District of Columbia, an urban land grant university, allowed students to tour a roof top garden, on-campus hydroponics and aquaponics facilities, and a Firebird research and development farm in Beltsville, Maryland. Students saw where their food comes from and the local efforts going into developing a sustainable food supply. The second trip, to the USDA’s Forest Service National Fire Desk, allowed students to see Geographical Information System (GIS) maps using near real-time data and monitoring incidents of fires throughout national forests.
The students delivered their work in presentations at GW on August 16th, to the delight of families, friends, USDA executives and sponsors. Here are some of the comments:
Dr. Forrest Maltzman, George Washington University Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs was “honored to provide a home for the DC STEAM program and the students who participated in it.”
Dr. Ted Kaouk, USDA’s chief Data Officer, said, “It was really impressive to see how programs like these enable young adults to ask big questions and then apply the power of government data, modern tools, and critical thinking to generate rapid learning and solutions that solve important problems and benefit communities.”
Parent Ivana Miranda remarked, “I enrolled my daughter, Music, in the Open Data STEAM camp because I wanted her to see a broad application of data. Once she began digging into the research about agriculture in general, (and specifically, water and drought) she started connecting the dots to previous science fair experiments, her interest in ecology and sustainability and how the data ties back to the community.
Betsy Schmidt Chase, CEO of Speranto Technology, said, “I was pretty blown away by the research, level of sophistication and creativity that went into the presentations. I realize it must be a huge amount of work to put these together, but I understand now why the STEAM staff is so passionate about this. Well done!”
We are already looking forward to the 2020 session. The camp has taken place in DC and California, and next year will once again be offered in both locations.