STEAM summer camp introduces teens to ag tech

Jul 28, 2017

As part of her job with the USDA, Joyce Hunter often attended meetings focused on using open data from the government to solve problems related to food and agriculture. But she noticed a distinct lack of women and young people at those open data meetings. Hunter was told there just weren't many who were interested.

“I thought to myself, well, they aren't looking in the right places,” said Hunter, an African American woman and former chief information officer at USDA. “Maybe we ought to encourage youth of different cultures and colors in order to ensure the pipeline is filled for the future. So I went to my CIO and asked her if it would be okay to set up an open data camp for youth, particularly underserved youth.”

By partnering with The Governance Lab at New York University and other agencies, Hunter organized summer camps for youth to experience science, technology, engineering, agriculture and math, or STEAM. This summer, she brought the STEAM camp concept to Sacramento. For two weeks in July, about two dozen high-school students went on field trips and engaged in STEAM-based activities as part of the California Open Data STEAM Summer Camp.

One of the things I love about it is the kids are so curious and they're coming up with their own research questions, with their own challenges,” said Melanie Weir, a STEAM camp instructor. “They're asking questions about why agriculture is important to them. Why food is important to them.”

Adam Low, a sophomore at Franklin High School in Elk Grove, was one of the camp participants.

“I chose the water and drought group because as a Californian, we know California was most recently in a drought. And I wanted to see what this data camp could teach me about water and how it affects agriculture and other topics,” said Low.

“They're traveling all over,” Weir said. “They went to different places. They went to Russell Ranch, they saw the drones, they're really excited about it. They saw the UC Davis laboratory and the UC ANR researchers. They saw helicopters. They saw these big machines that have 35 cameras that do 3-D dimensional pictures of crops and what's out there. They also went to the Cannery and they loved hugging the chickens. They thought it was the greatest thing in the world.”

The California Open Data STEAM Summer Camp was made possible through a partnership between USDA, The Governance Lab and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

By Pamela Kan-Rice
Author - Assistant Director, News and Information Outreach