STEM summer programs impacted by pandemic

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As COVID-19 remains an ongoing health threat worldwide, it has come to the attention of both students and program directors that the summer of 2020 will be like no other. Although many cities are beginning to reopen or ease restrictions, numerous summer programs have either transitioned to a virtual experience or have been cancelled altogether.

Guidance counselor Jeremy Wang said, “These cancellations eliminated 75,000 youth summer jobs in New York City. Our students need to become creative if they plan to stay engaged and involved with the community.” 

STEM programs and internships have been among the many types of programs that have been cancelled this summer.

Sophomore Maimuna Muntaha applied to two STEM programs prior to COVID-19 closures: Girls Who Code and Columbia University’s SHAPE program. However, she, like many others, is experiencing the repercussions of necessary safety adaptations. “After schools closed, my summer programs reached out and emailed me writing that they were being converted to a virtual program for the summer,” Maimuna explained. “They would change the schedule so that on the weekdays, they would have a short one-hour lesson about that day’s topic, and the rest of the day would be independent work that the program assigns us.” 

 Despite this change, many students agree that the safety measures are a necessary precaution. “Many of these programs involve closed spaces and the usage of shared materials. Given the current situation, I’d be uncomfortable trying to work in closed environments with other people. So, I think virtual camps are a great solution for that sort of discomfort that many students may feel,” said freshman Natalie Sang. 

Freshman Jamie Alfaro agreed and stated, “Virtual summer camps are a great idea. However, as things get safer, I think there should be an option for whether or not a student could go to these programs physically or virtually, obviously taking into account all the risks and precautions necessary.”

Still, there are still many problems that can occur with the decision to adapt to virtual environments. “At home, the setting is definitely harder to concentrate in because all my family members are also working from home, so interruptions are very frequent,” Maimuna explained. “It is harder to concentrate because of the ability to use my phone when I have several assignments.”

 Although many STEM programs have either been cancelled or gone virtual, there are still a wide variety of ways to explore STEM during this summer. “Online, there are also many free courses that people can take quickly and easily to learn more about different STEM majors. Princeton, Hofstra, Codecademy, and many more offer different lessons for STEM activities now that everyone is at home,” Maimuna commented.

Currently, there are numerous free virtual STEM-related activities, such as those hosted by the New York Hall of Science and various universities. Many of these programs and institutions are offering virtual meetings and workshops every week for students to develop skills in areas such as coding or architecture. 

However, quarantine has also allowed many students to explore new topics that aren’t related to STEM, or explore individual projects within their community.

To ensure students remain actively engaged during the summer, Mr. Wang recommends observing email messages closely and reaching out to safe volunteer and service opportunities within respective neighborhoods and communities.