By Laura Nelson 

Uvalde, TX, August 6, 2021

Students drawn to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields met on the Sul Ross State Univ. Uvalde campus last week to explore their interests.

Southwest Texas Junior College math instructor Oscar Gaytan and computer information systems instructor Luis Perez led the camp, a joint effort between the two schools and TWC-Vocational Rehabilitation Services.

The students ranged in age and experience from high school sophomores to a senior in college. They expressed a wide variety of interests, but all mentioned one particular project. The campers learned about the engineering process such as identifying need, brainstorming solutions, creating prototypes, improving, and performing a cost-benefit analysis. To apply the process, groups of students used K’Nex toy building components to engineer bridges and test them to see if they would hold up under the weight of bottles of water. Bryan Rodriguez, senior college engineering major and repeat STEM camper, described the cost-benefit analysis, explaining that each K’Nex component was assigned monetary value. He created an Excel spreadsheet to show the younger students how to find the highest efficiency at the lowest cost.

The campers met a graduate of a STEM program who talked about what he wishes he had known before going to college. He discussed the large number of valuable scholarships available to STEM students and spoke about taking advantage of tutoring resources as well as the importance of joining a study group.

Each student assembled a desktop computer to take home plus installed its operating system as well as other software. Another activity that Mr. Gaytan said instruction in basic coding in the Python programming language sparked considerable interest along with a lesson in encoding and decoding.

Mr. Perez, an experienced teacher, said he tries to place himself in the seat of the student and thinks “what would I want to know” while understanding the student may not know. He asks questions to gauge interest and monitors reactions to guide him.

On Friday, Sul Ross and SWTJC held a ceremony for students and their families. Afterward, everyone enjoyed a smoked brisket meal while students talked enthusiastically about what they learned.

Dr. Robert Muñoz, Vice President of Administrative Services at Sul Ross, said, “This camp is just a beginning. It demonstrates how our two institutions make an impact in the communities we serve, allowing students to explore future opportunities in STEM fields. We plan to expand it to all our joint campuses next summer. We truly appreciate the support of our local and regional Texas Workforce Commission offices which funded this experience.”