Baylor Partners with Transformation Waco Schools on STEM+ Camp Launch

June 2, 2023
Baylor School of Education New STEM Team, Dr. Nesmith on the left.  Dr. Cooper on the right.

Baylor School of Education New STEM Team- Dr. Suzanne Nesmith (l), Dr. Sandi Cooper (r) (Photo courtesy of Lia Hood, Baylor School of Education)

Contact: Kelly Craine, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-297-9065
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WACO, Texas (June 2, 2023) – Blasting off this summer is Baylor University’s STEM+ Camp Launch, designed for incoming fifth grade students from three Transformation Waco schools. Sponsored by the Baylor School of Education, with collaboration from the School of Engineering and Computer Science and funding from Waco’s Cooper Foundation, the program consists of three one-week sessions, taking place June 5-23 at the Mayborn Museum.

STEM+ Camp Launch introduces students to STEM subjects and gives them the “opportunity to engage with STEM in a positive way and see that it could be a potential career path,” said camp co-director and co-founder Sandi Cooper, Ph.D., professor of mathematics education at Baylor.

Students from Brook Avenue, Alta Vista and J.H. Hines elementary schools will attend a week-long session filled with instructional STEM+ experiences presented by master teachers, Baylor education graduate students and Baylor students majoring in education.

Finishing each week strong, students will test their STEM+ knowledge on Fridays with the launching of their own rockets, using the skills they gained during camp experiences to aid them in the process. 

“Exploring STEM through rockets is an incredible way to address a wide array of topics, from principles of Newton’s Third Law to thrust, velocity, acceleration, momentum, mass and propellants,” said co-director and co-founder Suzanne Nesmith, Ph.D., associate dean and associate professor of science education at Baylor. “When you hear that countdown ‘. . . 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, blast off . . .’ and see your rocket launched into space, there is nothing like it. That’s what STEM is all about.”

Students will engage in the typical STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), but Cooper said the “+” indicates additional subjects, beginning with the inclusion of art this summer. The artwork created by students throughout the week will be showcased at Family Night, which will include a rocket launch facilitated with the help of Baylor’s Elon Terrell, Ph.D., senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at Baylor.

The overall goals of STEM+ Camp Launch are to:

  • Orchestrate a positive learning environment that promotes STEM fields as potential career path;
  • Communicate the importance of STEM with families and provide opportunities for families to learn how to support learning at home; and
  • Provide professional development to teachers in the classrooms where STEM+ students are placed during the regular school year .

Kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers from the Transformation Waco schools, as well as teachers from Baylor’s affiliated professional development school campuses in Waco ISD and Midway ISD, also have been invited to attend one day professional development workshops each session.

Ongoing research on STEM education

Cooper and Nesmith know the importance of STEM subjects in elementary education, as well as the limited amount of time many teachers spend on these subjects prior to fifth grade. The 2018 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education reported that less than 20% of K-3 classes and only 35% of grade 4-6 classes received science instruction most or all days of the week.

“It is critical that all elementary students spend significant time every day engaging with the hands-on practices of science and STEM, because this early exposure encourages students to consider STEM-related careers and enroll in advanced science and mathematics courses in middle and high school,” Nesmith said.

Many students do not know the meaning of the term STEM+, Cooper said, or what these subjects might entail. Cooper, who also directs the Baylor School of Education’s Math for Early Learners Academy (MELA) program for rising kindergarten and first-grade students each July, said her passion for “starting them early” extends to all STEM subjects so students can have more experience in these subjects that could lead to future opportunities. 

To establish the depth of STEM understanding and the efficacy of the camp experience, students take two surveys at the beginning and end of each week’s session: the S-STEM (Student Attitudes Toward STEM) and STEMaSE (Self-Efficacy for STEM activities) surveys. These validated assessment instruments align with the research-based curriculum being used in the camp. The S-STEM survey determines students' initial attitude toward STEM, and how it might change by the end of STEM+ Camp Launch. STEMaSE will assess students' self-efficacy in science, technology, engineering and math as integrated STEM learning occurs.

In addition, Cooper said researchers will compare students' STAAR test scores in the coming year to see how those who attended the camp might excel in STEM areas in comparison to those who did not.

Local funding

The Cooper Foundation is funding Baylor's STEM+ Camp Launch through a $47,000 grant that covers salaries for staff, development tools for each learning session, stipends for local teachers participating in the three days of professional development training, as well as other small necessities such as water bottles and T-shirts for the students.

Nesmith said that the Cooper Foundation is a good partner because its mission to make Waco a better place aligns with the camp’s goals.

“Recognizing that a strong foundation in education starts early in order to be successful in middle and high school years, the Cooper Foundation is funding STEM+ Camp Launch to help build a firm foundation in STEM in early years to promote academic growth and interest in STEM fields,” Nesmith said. “The seeds that are planted this summer during STEM+ Camp Launch may result in more Waco students considering and moving forward in STEM career paths, which absolutely supports Madison Cooper’s vision for enhancing the Waco community.”

The School of Engineering and Computer Science is funding supplies for the rockets launched each week, as well as CO2-propelled cars that students will build and race during their learning sessions. Students have the chance to apply what they learn during the week through these hands-on STEM based activities.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. 


For more than 100 years, the School of Education has advanced Baylor’s mission across the globe while preparing students for a range of careers focused on education, leadership, and human development. With more than 60 full-time faculty members, the school’s growing research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation. Likewise, the School of Education’s graduate programs have attained national recognition for their exemplary preparation of research scholars, educational leaders, innovators, and clinicians. Visit the School of Education website to learn more.