While still under construction, the new site of the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado at 8701 Wolf Drive hosted 16 high school-aged young women at its International Girls in STEM summer camp June 22-26. Included were including three students from India, two from the Republic of Kazakhstan, and three from Senegal.

The center made the move in early June and hopes to launch its first “mission,” hosting its first school group in the new, much larger, 10,500-square-foot space on Aug. 30.

The campers — double the number the STEM camp hosted last year — worked on developing missions to Mars, creating Lego robots, and learning about each other and their different cultures.

Rob Fredell, CEO of the Learning Center, said the center was “excited to work with American Councils for International Education and U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna to host this special group of international students for the second year in a row… Giving the local Colorado Springs students and our visiting international students the chance to work together is an incredible opportunity to learn about their various cultures and collaborate on exciting STEM projects.”

Teamwork and cross-cultural communication were a big part of the learning. While completing challenges, like ones based on upgraded maps of Mars and the moon, the students solved problems by investigating possible solutions in conversation.

The focus on STEM during the week intentionally included some creative elements — although not strictly meeting the “A” for “Art” criteria which would make it a “STEAM” camp. For instance, students were able to use a sewing machine at a station for making parachutes.

Even instructor Carrie Ryden was surprised at what the students jointly came up with during one game which involved creating day-to-day useful items for imaginary, fantastical characters.

Sharing ideas in a nonlinear, free-association way led to a lot of satisfaction for students during assignments, Ryden said. For example, when discussing budget considerations for a Mars-bound mission, the young women compared notes and were able to “design with empathy.”

The experience was made possible through a partnership with Challenger Center, funding from the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna, and international student selection, recruitment and participation managed by ACIE.

The U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna works to advance U.S. national interests with seven Austria-based major organizations of the United Nations system, including the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs.

ACIE “designs and implements educational and academic programs in regions of the world deemed critical for U.S. economic competitiveness and national security. These programs are underpinned with thorough research that ensures their quality and integrity.”

Hari Priya Gupta, a student from India, spoke of the send-off she received in her “very underprivileged locality” in India, when she was selected for the program after an application and interview process from among 10 other students.

“My teacher felicitated me with some flowers, bouquets and everything … I was too happy,” she said.

After seeing that, “She, a girl of a laborer is going to the U.S.,” other parents in the area were inspired to enroll their children in the Samaritan Help Mission English-medium school from which Gupta graduated, she said.

Genevieve Pace, Gupta’s partner during the camp, said, “I love working with people from different countries.”

Pace was thankful her Junior ROTC sponsor had nominated her for the summer program, and she expressed appreciation for the thorough teaching she received. She said she’d played around with some of the equipment before but never really learned it until the camp.

“The instructors here are wonderful. They walk us through it; help us understand. I feel prepared,” Pace said.

Gupta spoke with sparkling eyes and a sincere warmth about the encouragement she received from fellow students at times of doubt during the week full of new information.

“My friends … y’know I didn’t know earlier them but … they were so helpful. Anytime I felt, ‘I could not do that,’ they always helped me.”

Overall there was a lot of, “computational learning and international cooperation,” acquired by all, said Manis.

Pace broke into a wide smile when sharing about a non-STEM-related activity. “We also taught the international students how to play groundies (a blindfolded tag game) on the playground.”

Challenger Learning Center is open to the public daily, even during construction.

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