Alaskan Science and Engineering Summer Camp Thrives using Microsoft Tools for the Mind

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Science and Engineering Experience Kamp (SEEK)
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Organization's Mission Statement

The mission of the Science and Engineering Experience Kamp (SEEK) is to pique the interest of young people to explore science and engineering.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Way up north in Alaska, Microsoft products are helping to sculpt young minds and futures. In today’s world, adolescents have many things on their minds from applying for college, to texting one another every 30 seconds, to figuring out their place in this world; it is rare to hear teenagers express their enthusiasm for academics. However, at SEEK (Science and Engineering Experience Kamp), enthusiastic statements are common:

“Powerpoints are fun.”

“I like doing briefings.”

“So much fun. Cool how we learned to use the spreadsheets.”

SEEK offers a summer academic camp, called SEEK Alaska, for middle-school students at the University of Alaska Anchorage. At SEEK Alaska, students engage in academic research, use software and hardware tools, make scientific predictions, test with hands-on experiments, perform problem solving, and participate in leadership activities (Word brochure attached). This may sound like a crushing workload for five days, yet, SEEK students find it highly rewarding and most of all fun. Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Encarta Reference Library and Dictionary received through TechSoup enhance the SEEK program and are our core software tools. Here’s our story.

Enable New Program

Microsoft software’s attribute of efficiency allowed creation of a different kind of academic camp. SEEK is a young program, starting service year six. We started the camp because of a national need to energize young students toward math, science and engineering. SEEK does this by challenging middle-school students beyond their normal bounds and simultaneously making learning fun. To be a professional and thorough academic camp, every student needed a computer with powerful business and computational software. Microsoft software was our hands-down choice. SEEK’s software-intense program allows more topics at college-level depth, which is unique for a middle-school summer camp.

Enhanced Quality of Program

Microsoft software’s attributes of ease of use and interoperability make the software fun to use. The SEEK curriculum emphasizes the computer as a scientific tool, rather than a gaming system, interactive TV, communication port or toy. Most of our students have not used computers with such academic intensity; for instance, nearly none have worked with spreadsheets. After a few minutes of introduction to the software, the students are moving full speed ahead. The students find this intensive use compelling. The realities of scientific experiments are illuminated with these computational tools.

Each student is issued a notebook computer for camp use installed with Microsoft software exclusively. These computers are used throughout the day for research, prediction, data gathering, plotting, and analysis. In their final project, students compose a paper and design a briefing. To streamline efforts, we show students techniques to integrate software tools to interchange scientific data in the form of tables, equations, graphs and figures. Interaction between packages is seamless, thanks to the interoperability of Microsoft software. The seamless interaction makes the tasks fun and exciting, rather than tedious and frustrating. This excitement helps in the learning process and leaves a positive impression. The students only compose once and then copy and paste to other software packages. The time saved allows students to think more creatively and include novel ideas in their paper or presentation. Students craft their final products like artists, including bold colors, videos and sounds. And remember, these are middle-school students. The final briefings are stunning, truly professional. (Launch the supporting PowerPoint file for a superb sample of SEEK students' work.) After all is said and done, the students remember the fun of the experiment and how easy it was to present the information. We have seen an intellectual fire lit under SEEK students.

Increased Reach or Impact of Program

Because of a professional proposal put together using Microsoft products, SEEK was awarded a 2009 community grant for scholarships for students from Seward and Moose Pass, Alaska. This scholarship grant allows SEEK to make a positive impact on students from a new rural area.

Impact of Organization and Metrics

The students evaluate SEEK by completing a final questionnaire including the following questions: Did you learn more about science and engineering? Did you enjoy yourself? The answers to these two questions tell us if we have been effective in piquing the interest of young people to explore science and engineering. On a normalized basis, student response can range between -100 (Strong No) to +100 (Strong Yes). Quantitatively, over the last five years of SEEK Alaska camps, the average response has been +97 and +94, respectively. Student comments complete the picture:

“Absolutely scientifically awesome.”

“The best, I didn’t know you could predict that much with math.”

“It was really fun and really challenging.”

Parental comments also indicate a wonderful positive impact. A mother wrote us:

“THANK YOU!! This has been a fabulous opportunity for my two sons. I would absolutely recommend this camp to anyone who has a child with an interest in Math, Science or Engineering. I was very, very impressed and amazed by the material covered by this camp. I appreciated that this camp was held on a college campus giving all the students a great taste of their future college environment. I have seen my children solve and understand complex problems on the same level as I remember from first year Engineering Classes! But most importantly all these kids had FUN!! Thank you for sharing the adventure of knowledge, and a love of science, and the potential of engineering with these kids.”


So we ask: has the pervasive use of Microsoft software made our program effective? From administration, instructors, plus students’ and parents’ overwhelmingly positive comments, the answer is a resounding yes! SEEK students use Microsoft tools from the first hour of camp, to the last hour, nearly continuously. Because of the depth we are asking the students to delve, it would be nearly impossible without a great integrated software package. Microsoft tools allow SEEK students to cover more academic ground at much greater depth with challenging deadlines. SEEK is efficient and fun. Seamless tools work.

It is very apt to describe Microsoft software as tools. SEEK uses Microsoft products as mind tools. SEEK students are leveraging their mental power with these mind tools. They see farther, can do more, their thoughts are stronger.

In closing, the gallery photo is of a SEEK student. This photo was not staged; we actually interrupted Andrew while he was working on his final project--using two computers. He has one hand working on data management; the other on the final presentation. Andrew couldn’t get enough of Microsoft products—the story is the same with all SEEK students!

Submission Category
Optimize Mission Delivery