STEM camp sparks interest in science, jobs

An experiment underway at Shell Norco’s STEM camp at DHS.
An experiment underway at Shell Norco’s STEM camp at DHS.

With an eye cast toward furthering or awakening an interest in science among area youth and exposing them to the possibilities that come with it down the line, Shell Norco gave a national program its own local flavor.

Thus the first annual Shell Norco STEM camp was born, held for five days last week at Destrehan High School. There, 52 students from Norco Elementary and Harry Hurst Middle schools, Shell Norco’s partner schools in learning along with Destrehan High, got to learn about robotics, chemistry and other areas of scientific interest.

Destrehan High students volunteered to help the teaching effort — the school is the home of one of the state’s elite robotics programs — along with teachers from all three schools involved and also Shell Norco employees.

Shell Norco spokesman Ken Jones said Shell’s corporate base have done the camps nationally for years, but hire a contractor to do so that wouldn’t be from the area.

“Students relate better to teachers they know, so we thought, why not do it on our own,” Jones said. “So I partnered with all the principals, said, ‘okay, you guys are educators … you come up with a curriculum, and we’ll augment that with our people and provide the necessary funding.’”

He said sparking an interest in science and the jobs that can come with it can only bring positives.

“The high schools get it because of the robotics team, but this is something the younger kids might not get hands on experience with in school,” Jones said. “It’s an issue state wide we’re dealing with … people go to school here and leave to work.

“The idea is to have people go to school here and stay here. So we’re aiding a system that’s able to feed us with talent, they’re able to make real good livings and in turn they contribute back to the community. And it goes on and on from there.”

Kathleen Prilutski, a chemist for Shell Norco who volunteered to teach last week, said there was a big focus on keeping things fun.

“We’ve been doing all kinds of different experiments and making sure the kiddos are having fun,” she said. “It’s great because one day you might see them in the workforce. But it’s also something where we can show science can be interesting and cool.”

Jones said hands-on experiments were a major focus because that will maintain interest, rather than keeping things confined to a classroom.

“We didn’t want to talk kids to death,” he said. “We wanted a situation where they can work and use their hands, something that will stay with them. The simplest way to become interested and experienced in this is learning how to make things work.”

A survey of the experimentation area at Destrehan attested to that, as a lively group of students teamed up to explore and experiment.

“They don’t want to go home, so I feel like we’re doing okay,” Jones said with a chuckle. “I think everyone’s had a really good time and hopefully are learning some things along the way.”

He said plans are to make it an annual event. interest raises.”

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