Pitt’s student union opened its doors last month to roughly 500 day campers from Pittsburgh area YMCAs and YWCAs for “Sciencepalooza 2014.” Seventy students and faculty from Pitt Science Outreach volunteered at the event, which is designed to engage and excite kids about science through interactive activities and experiments.
The event marked the end of the six-week long sustained science outreach camp Pitt students ran on-site at the various YMCAs and YWCAs. Each week, volunteers brought individualized lessons to the camps that focused on different areas of science.
Sciencepalooza is the event Judy Cameron, Ph. D., director of Pitt Science Outreach, looks forward to the most. As a scientist, she understands the importance of introducing children to the subject early on.
“We wanted a fun, end-of-the-summer event that would really be science at its very best,” she said. Studies have shown that children are more likely to pursue science-driven careers if they are introduced to the topics at a young age. “We hope it’s very memorable and they think back on it and it’s a very positive experience about science.”
Highlights for older campers included stations where they built their own radios, watched a glass blowing demonstration, practiced yoga, and used a water pump to learn about how the human heart functions. Programming for the campers in kindergarten through third grade focused on nutrition, and combining education with fun games and songs to reinforce the content.
Nothing was stopping Sciencepalooza’s older attendees from having a great time, too. Aliyah Weinstein, a graduate student studying immunology at the Pitt School of Medicine, said that Pitt Science Outreach gave her a way to get involved with the community. As she chaperoned different groups of campers, she found that the kids jumped at the opportunity to share what they had learned.
“It is great to see kids engaged in science outside of a classroom setting,” she said. “This event makes science so much more accessible.”
Chris Kaminski, a day camping core service leader with the YMCA, was thrilled about the collaboration between the YMCAs and YWCAs and Pitt Science Outreach.
“Having college students come in who are closer to the campers’ ages to work with them is great,” he said. Throughout the summer, he saw his campers eager to learn about science and that enthusiasm carried over to Sciencepalooza, where they were making connections between the activities and what they previously learned in their weekly sessions.
Kaminski has high hopes for the future of Pitt Science Outreach involvement in the YMCA and YWCA camps. “Right now we have it with a few of our locations, but I would love to see this at every single one of our camps,” he said.