Baylor School of Education Hosts Second Year of STEM+ Camp for Fifth Graders

June 4, 2024
STEM+ Camp Launch campers learned about force and friction by launching balloon-powered cars after pumping the balloon full of air.

STEM+ Camp Launch campers learned about force and friction by launching balloon-powered cars after pumping the balloon full of air. (Kassidy Tsikitas/Baylor School of Education)

Contact: Kelly Craine, Baylor University Media & Public Relations, 254-297-9065
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WACO, Texas (June 3, 2024) – Baylor University School of Education is hosting the second year of STEM+ Camp Launch, a week-long day camp focused on rocket science, for rising fifth graders from three Transformation Waco schools. Co-founded last year by Suzanne Nesmith, Ph.D., associate professor of STEM education, and Sandi Cooper, Ph.D., professor of mathematics education, the program is funded by a grant from Waco’s Cooper Foundation and held at Baylor’s Mayborn Museum.

STEM+ Camp Launch includes two week-long camp sessions running Monday through Friday the weeks of June 3 and June 10. During the camp, students learn about scientific, mathematics and engineering principles through projects like engineering, which includes building rockets and racing model cars.

STEM+ Camp Launch introduces students to STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) and gives them the opportunity to engage with STEM in a hands-on, positive way. Nesmith said the “+” indicates additional subjects, beginning with the inclusion of art. The artwork created by students throughout the week is showcased at Family Night, which also includes launch of student-built rockets with the help of Mayborn’s Alan Small, STEM programs coordinator.

The overall goals of STEM+ Camp Launch are to:

  • Orchestrate a positive learning environment that promotes STEM fields as a potential career path;
  • Offer opportunities to stimulate students’ recognition of and desire to further their education beyond high school; and
  • Communicate the importance of STEM with families and provide opportunities for families to learn how to support STEM learning at home.

The impact of early STEM

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 received science instruction most or all days of the week, and those that teach science during the week typically spend less than 20 minutes a day on the topic.

“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.

Additionally, Nesmith noted, encouraging STEM learning from an early age enhances children’s innate curiosity.

“Fostering engineering design promotes the essential 21st century learning skills of critical thinking, collaboration and creativity,” she said. “STEM learning is critical in building the confidence children need to grow as lifelong problem solvers in all of their future academic and professional pursuits.”

Camp effectiveness

Nesmith said research conducted through student surveys last year showed the camp accomplished its goal of improving students’ confidence and efficacy in STEM subjects. 

“The survey poses a series of ‘I am able to...’ questions,” Nesmith said. “Students’ attitudes toward the STEM categories all increased from the first to the last day of camp, with a statistically significant increase in mathematics.”

Di Copeman, elementary STEM educator, is returning this summer as lead teacher for STEM+. Copeman indicated that when considering plans for this summer, she put on her STEM hat and reflected.

“Just like all things engineering related, we need to reflect upon last year’s amazing experiences as well as our ‘fabulous first-year flops,’ so we can come back this year with improvements to our plans,” she said. “I’m excited to see how the changes to our curriculum and lessons encourage a greater focus on student-led designing and creativity.”

Local funding, university partnership 

The Cooper Foundation is funding Baylor's STEM+ Camp Launch through a $47,000 grant that covers salaries for staff, tools and resources for each learning session, as well as other necessities such as water bottles and backpacks 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 Baylor School of Engineering and Computer Science is providing supplies for balloon-propelled and 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.


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.


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.