As a boy raised by his grandparents in Lorain, Jason Williams couldn’t afford to go to the math and science camps he saw brochures about.
Now 34, Williams’ mission is to ensure other children have that opportunity.
Last June, Williams founded Get With the Program, a nonprofit group that hosts science, engineering, mathematics, and technology academies, camps, and classes in Oberlin. In the wake of the deindustrialization of America, Williams said STEM literacy is vital.
“The next big innovation in America will come from these group of kids,” he said. “It’s just about making STEM real and relevant to them.”
The first academy, a 15-week after-school effort, was held at Eastwood Elementary School. It was funded by the Nordson Corporation Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Westlake-based manufacturer.
The two hours per week, the academy taught three dozen first- and second-graders computer circuitry and programming as well as engineering and robotics.
In addition to the academy, classes and camps have been held when the Oberlin Schools are on break. Students from other Lorain County school districts, including several from the Amherst Schools, have also participated, Williams said.
To motivate students, athletics, music, and writing are incorporated into the curriculum. Dioramas are built and STEM journals are kept. “We realize all kids don’t learn the same, so we’ll take those different approaches,” Williams said.
Williams, a 2005 Oberlin College graduate and resident of the city, enlisted the help of a few OC professors for a camp held last year. Students toured associate physics professor Jason Stalnaker’s laboratory to learn about light, optics, and laser technology.
This year, Stalnaker gave tours and also lectured students on electricity and magnetism. He said the emphasis was on hands-on activities such as having students act out how light particles behave.
“You want to get them excited about the materials so that they continue to study it,” Stalnaker said. “You want to instill that excitement and show them cool things that you can do with physics and understand with physics.”
Shlomo Elkin said his daughter and son enjoyed taking part in a camp at the college this summer and are still talking about the scientific concepts they learned. “They’re still very excited about it,” he said.
Williams is hoping to expand his fledgling program. He’s talking about holding after-school classes at the Avon Schools and speaking with the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority about a coding camp in the spring. He’s also hoping to produce a web video about STEM activities and continue advocating for STEM education.
“This is my passion. This is what I was put here to do,” Williams said. “We just try to make everything real and relevant.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.