Success Story

TARDEC Sponsers Stem Summer Camps at Tribal Colleges


Seeking to provide science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for children of under-represented groups, the Michigan National Defense Education Program (NDEP) Coordination Office, based at U.S. Army TARDEC in Warren, Michigan, sponsored multiple STEM summer camps at two tribal colleges in 2011. The colleges, located on reservations, welcomed the STEM camps, and 90% of the K-12 students who attended were Native Americans.

One year earlier, TARDEC had been appointed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense to lead Michigan's NDEP. TARDEC immediately saw the opportunity to reach out to the state's Native American population and bring STEM programs to the tribal colleges. TARDEC has a tradition of working with tribal colleges and universities that began in the early 1990s, and it was eager to build on this foundation.

TARDEC awarded a contract to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) in Alexandria, Virginia, to support all of the tribal college STEM summer camps. AIHEC is the headquarters of the 36 tribal universities and colleges located in the U.S., all of which have Historically Black Colleges and Universities/Minority Institutions (HBCU/MI) status. This was lauded as the first contract awarded to tribal colleges by TARDEC in the 71-year history of the command.

The STEM camps covered a variety of topics, including chemistry, forensic science, applied mathematics, physics, robotics and rocketry. TARDEC scientists and engineers were involved in all phases of work related to the camps, from planning to teaching. The two tribal colleges were Bay Mills Community College in Brimley, Michigan, and Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College located in Baraga, Michigan. According to the STEM camp organizers, it seemed as though the entire population of each of the reservations was aware of the benefit of these camps and TARDEC's role in funding the camps. And, according to the Brimley newspapers, this was the first such camp for K-12 students residing on the reservation.

Greg Chappelle, the Michigan NDEP STEM Coordinator and nationally recognized STEM educator, stated that "Inclusion of a diverse student population within our STEM educational efforts will lead to more STEM careers selected by student members of under-represented groups." Both Greg Chappelle and Andrea Simon represented TARDEC at these ground-breaking summer STEM camps, and they worked with the teachers and students to enhance the students' learning experience. Andrea Simon said, "The use of Ôhands-on' STEM teaching methodologies was very exciting to the students."

Chappelle and Simon have been working together on Michigan NDEP STEM projects since 2010. They have teamed to bring NDEP-funded after-school STEM programs to public schools around Michigan and K-12 summer STEM camps to major universities. They have also spearheaded NDEP STEM public service announcements on television. Through their work with the Michigan STEM Alliance, a group of government, industry, and educational stakeholders with a shared focus on K-12 STEM education, the 96th Michigan Legislature passed a 2012 State Proclamation declaring the last week in March 2012 as "Michigan STEM Awareness Week."

Chappelle said, "We look forward to forging new relationships with the tribes." Indeed, TARDEC's vision is to continue to run K-12 STEM summer camps at the tribal colleges and to expand these to include remotely located reservations throughout Michigan.