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Free Summer STEM Academies Benefit Tennessee Students

The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education located at a U.S. Department of Energy facility has served local children for decades. The programs have advanced AI, robotics and coding.

STEM graphic
Some K-12 students in Tennessee will spend the early part of their summer vacation learning about AI, robotics, coding and other STEM topics free of charge.

The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), a nonprofit agency that serves the U.S. Department of Energy, announced six free “mini academies” in a recent news release, each aimed at different age groups.

The Advanced Robotics program, which began June 5 and ends today, is for students entering grades 9-12 in the coming academic year who have experience in the topic. Participants worked in small groups on projects that go beyond the basics of building and programming robots. The goal of this program is to develop skills that could help them as they progress toward careers as engineers, computer programmers and technology leaders, the release said.

The AI program is for students entering grades 7-9. During the two days of instruction, June 12-13, they will learn and apply the principles of artificial intelligence, the release said.

For students entering grades 1-3, there is a Math Exploration Day program on June 15, and another on June 16 for students entering grades 4-6. Organizers hope to make the topic fun and enjoyable as participants sharpen their skills, the release said.

The Boe-Bots Academy, June 19-23, is for rising seventh, eighth and ninth graders. This is an entry-level session in which students will collaborate on plans to design, build and program a robot, according to the release.

The Scratch Programming event for middle schoolers entering grades 6-8, scheduled for June 21, will give participants a basic working knowledge of coding.

The final mini academy, scheduled for July 6, is a Kindercoding class, where younger elementary school children, entering grades 1-3, will learn the most basic principles of coding and hopefully find they can be “fun and easy” to develop, the news release said.

All programs take place in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Advanced registration is required.

Jennifer Tyrell, an ORISE assistant manager for nine years now, said the program dates back decades, although she could not put a specific date on it. She estimated that 150 students from the greater Knoxville, Tenn., area participate in it annually, many of whom went on to earn college or university degrees, complete specialized internships and pursue STEM careers.

“This is seen as a spark to light the fire kids can have for STEM subjects,” Tyrell said in an interview with Government Technology Friday. “But we’ve got to make it fun for them. We have formed a nice pipeline, and these outreach programs are just the beginning.”

According to the ORISE website, the U.S. Department of Energy has tapped this agency to enable “critical scientific, research and health initiatives of the department and its laboratory system by providing world-class expertise in STEM workforce development, scientific and technical reviews, and the evaluation of radiation exposure and environmental contamination.”

ORISE, which dates back to the Manhattan Project and originated as the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies, is based at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, according to the website.
Aaron Gifford has several years of professional writing experience, primarily with daily newspapers and specialty publications in upstate New York. He attended the University at Buffalo and is based in Cazenovia, NY.