UT should increase their diversity of summer camp programs

Michael Zhang, Columnist

Before coming to UT, I was one of those students who had no idea what I wanted to do. My fellow peers seemed to find their interests through STEM-related summer camps held by local colleges. I knew I didn’t want to be a part of any STEM career, but any opportunities to learn about other fields in schools such as liberal arts or communications appeared nonexistent.

Every year, UT holds a series of local summer camps that hope to foster high school students’ interest in study areas through its Division of Diversity and Community Engagement center. However, most of these camps are only targeted toward STEM areas of study.

UT should increase its diversity and variety of summer camp programs to help students explore their interests.

Summer camps provide outreach, professional development and experience in a variety of majors for local K-12 students. Yet, by sticking to a limited variety of traditional summer camp topics, UT has wasted this opportunity.

Some may question the purpose of these camps, wondering just how much influence they have on prospective UT students. But the UT Women in STEM program stands to prove the efficacy of these summer camp programs.

Civil engineering sophomore Jennifer Octaviano described her experience in the UT Women in STEM summer program.

” I think, for me, being able to be involved in this program … helped me narrow down my decision that I wanted to attend UT. … I think just getting yourself involved in a summer program to know what you want to do … I think that’s a really helpful idea,” Octaviano said.

Clearly, these summer camp programs at UT are highly effective in giving students confidence and experience within their fields of interest. Additionally, it seems that these summer camp programs are able to provide a high degree of outreach to many students of different backgrounds.

Chemical engineering sophomore Alexis Maldonado described in an email the program’s accommodations for students such as herself in the UT Women in STEM summer program.

“WEP offers scholarships for these summer camps, and I was able to get one of these in order to cover all of my costs,” Maldonado said. “They really do accommodate students from different backgrounds as well, and even had alumni who were first-generation engineers like me.”

Why has UT not tried to expand the summer camps offered to other areas of study? Liberal arts has almost two times the amount of total majors compared to STEM, yet only has a quarter of the number of summer camps. Students interested in these areas could also benefit from making connections to those with similar backgrounds and interests to them. 

Other than the Summer Discovery courses, we don’t have any other plans to offer liberal arts courses to high school students,” Daniel Oppenheimer, director of public affairs at the College of Liberal Arts, stated in an email.  

It seems that the largest obstacle that prevents UT from resolving this issue is not due to lack of funding, manpower or an issue with logistics. Rather, it’s due to UT’s neglect of courses outside of STEM. UT is choosing to treat other areas of studies almost as an afterthought, neglecting to implement them into its summer camp programs. 

With the diversity in courses and majors and its reputation, the University has a chance to increase interest in areas not explicitly limited to STEM. UT needs to foster this student outreach in areas outside of STEM by increasing the variety of their offered summer camp programs.

Michael Zhang is an undeclared PACE freshman from Katy, Texas.