Ann Camp: Exposing young minds to STEM
Growing up, there's always one school teacher who inspires you, the one who helps you discover your talents and achieve your goals.
For Ann Camp, it was Mrs. Scales, a geometry teacher.
"She was the one who told me I could do what I wanted to do, and since I came from a large family, it was nice to have somebody who had that confidence in me," she said.
Today, there are many students who would likely say the same about Camp.
Camp is a Carlisle resident who has taught for 10 years for the Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA), a public cyber charter school in Pennsylvania. She strives to expose students to careers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, or STEM.
"To me, teaching (math and chemistry) has been the best part of my life, really," she said. "I've done other things. I worked in Social Security as a math person. I've worked as a chemist. But I enjoy teaching the best."
A lifelong love of math
Camp comes from a long line of STEM professionals. Four of her five brothers are engineers; the fifth is a doctor. One sister is a pharmacist, another a nurse and a third studied math. Her husband and son are even engineers.
She knew early on she had a knack for math, citing a memory from seventh grade.
"Our class as a whole had done something that (our teacher) was not proud of us for," Camp said, "So she was punishing us and she said, 'OK, tomorrow you guys are having a test, and it's going to be the hardest test I have ever made up. Then I'm going to grade everybody's test in front of the whole class.'"
As the teacher went through the tests, "people were failing it left and right."
"And she got to me and said, 'Ann, did you study?' I said no," she said. "She goes, 'You didn't have to. You got 100.' At that point I think that's what turned me onto math."
Camp went on to graduate from Purdue University with a major in mathematics and minors in chemistry and Russian, with the option to teach all three subjects.
Teaching STEM for 'the real world'
A highlight of Camp's career has been one of the methods through which she has shared her passion for STEM.
She coaches groups of students to compete in an international STEM competition called the Real World Design Challenge (RWDC). Working in teams, students are asked to solve a real-world problem facing one of the world's industries. For this year's competition, they must design a "farmer's companion": an unmanned aerial vehicle and aircraft system that can complete tasks for a farmer, such as finding invasive pests and checking up on crops.
This week, Camp's team of students will travel to Washington, D.C., to present their project, with the hopes of winning the grand prize – a $50,000 scholarship to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for each student.
Camp first got her students involved in the competition during her second year at the charter academy.
"It's fun to watch (students) get turned on to it," she said, adding that usually students who join the RWDC team don’t leave the program or the academy.
"I had one student several years ago who as an eighth grader was going to leave CCA, and she discovered RWDC," she said. "In ninth grade she signed up, fell in love and ended up valedictorian of her class. She told me she stayed because of RWDC and me."
Today the student is a sophomore in the honors program at Embry-Riddle.
The future of STEM is female
STEM's continued integration into high school curriculum delights Camp.
"It feels good,” she said. "It's nice to know that science and math are finally being appreciated. They've always pushed English, but it's nice that the more technical fields are being pushed."
Camp said it's important the education system works to introduce students earlier to STEM and, in turn, show them the career possibilities associated with it. She said teachers need to be cognizant of the timing of their lessons, as male students' minds develop at different rates than those of female students.
"The earlier the better," she said. "Once you get somebody fired up, they will continue in that direction."
For student Chloe Ciora, a CCA senior in Butler County, Camp's enthusiasm helped her discover her own interest in STEM. Camp shows students the practical aspects of chemistry in daily life, she said.
A member of the RWDC team since ninth grade, Ciora has been reading up on patent law for the design of the students' aerial vehicle for this year's competition. Camp guides the students along, Ciora said, but she lets them make their own decisions.
Camp's passion for STEM has rubbed off on Ciora. She’ll attend the University of Pittsburgh in the fall to study computer science.
Having female role models to look up to and seeing women can do this is valuable, she said. "Half our (RWDC) team is actually female, and I think that has a lot to do with Ms. Camp."
Camp will retire this year. As she looks back on her career, her advice for other women considering a career STEM education is simple: "Do it."
"It's amazing how having a female teacher in a STEM field, how much you can influence the female student population," she said.