K-12 programs highlight opportunities to connect with Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. ­— Back when she was in high school, Katelyn Bahr attended Advanced Weather Camp at Penn State, and said it had a big impact on her life. Now a Penn State grad, she has worked as a lead counselor at the camp for three years, working to inspire the next generation of future meteorologists.

“Attending that camp solidified my decision to attend Penn State for meteorology,” Bahr said. “I am now graduated with a degree in meteorology and atmospheric science. The counselors I had in 2018 were really nice, and I knew I wanted to study with people like that in college and have the same passion for meteorology.”

The annual weeklong camp is held by the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science in partnership with Penn State Conferences and Institutes. This year, 37 students from 16 different states attended the program, which launched in 2001.

Of the students who attend the camp, 20% to 30% end up majoring in meteorology at Penn State.

The program is just one example of the many programs for students and teachers over the summer that help to prepare them for the upcoming school year and beyond, said Amanda Smith, director of K-12 Engagement Network, a service of Penn State Outreach. The K-12 Engagement Network is a resource to help connect students, teachers, and parents to these and other educational opportunities available at Penn State.

“No matter where you live in Pennsylvania, there are youth and educator programs accessible to you,” Smith said.

Such programs include Penn State Wilkes Barre’s Women in Engineering Camp, the Eberly College of Science’s Science-U Premed Academy, the Teen Entrepreneurship Camp that is co-sponsored by Penn State Lehigh Valley, and Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center summer camps. More than 25,000 children aged 6 to 18 attended one of the 700 Penn State–sponsored programs held at University Park and 18 Commonwealth campuses this year, according to Sandra Weaver, director of Youth Program Compliance.

“Our programs provide a special type of community where children come together to have fun and gain self-confidence as they learn new skills in an enjoyable, supportive environment,” Weaver said.

Learning is not just for the kids. Penn State’s Summer Workshops for Teachers helped educators from around Pennsylvania and beyond prepare for the upcoming school year.

Anton Ocepek, from Downingtown STEM Academy, used part of his summer break to develop new skills for his classroom at the Interdisciplinary Research Experience for Teachers program, which was offered by Penn State’s Center for Nanoscale Science.

The program provides opportunities for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers to engage in hands-on research projects with faculty mentors in materials science, chemistry, physics and nanotechnology. 

“This experience in the lab has helped me so I can design research-based classroom experiences that will utilize the new standards,” Ocepek said.

The Center for Science and the Schools, part of the College of Education, also offers similar opportunities for educators through a Research Experiences for STEM Teachers program, while one of their week-long workshops, Expanding Youth Involvement in Exploring Exciting Employment Directions in Agriculture, helps teachers learn more about the possibilities available for students in state-of-the-art agriculture production.

“Opportunities to engage teachers in research-based experiences, no matter if they are offered as a one-day program or a six-week program, helps provide a grasp into the real world of research happening right here and stay current with our changing society,” Smith said. “They are our best sustainable approach to improving our future workforce needs and in alignment with President Neeli Bendapudi’s priorities.”

As the school year begins, the K-12 Engagement Network continues to offer opportunities for the community to connect with Penn State all year long.

“We want to hear from you and help build a bridge between K-12 families and Penn State,” Smith said.

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