A total of 36 students from Graham and Greenlee counties recently took part in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) camp in Payson.

THATCHER — Eastern Arizona College and the Eastern Arizona Science Initiative teamed up last month to take 36 students from throughout Graham and Greenlee counties to attend the Tonto Creek STEM Camp, also known as Camp Tontozona, just outside of Payson.

The camp was specifically designed to include STEM topics — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — combined with environmental lessons.

EASI offers the summer science camp opportunity for students who have an interest or aptitude in science to participate in a variety of hands-on activities. With the help of knowledgeable instructors to enhance their learning and understanding in STEM education, event organizers hope to inspire these outstanding students to participate in higher-level math and science courses in college, and ultimately pursue careers in science.

The three-day, two-night camp, which is open to students in seventh through 10th grade, included dorm-style accomodations and meals served in the camp dining hall.

The students are able to participate in several environmental activities including an ecology hike, where they learned to identify native vegetation and identify micro-environments found there. The hike eventually arrived at the Tonto Creek waterfall, where the students were encouraged to safely explore the landscape and ask questions of the instructors and guides.

Campers were busy throughout the day with a variety of in-depth lessons, such as geology. With a collection of 15 rocks and several fossils, the students learned about the rock cycle and subtypes, and created their own display board with samples to take home.

This year, there was a solar oven lesson to illustrate the sun’s power to cook meals, allowing the students to make s’mores to enjoy.

Another fun hands-on activity was the Rube Goldberg Machine, where campers used a variety of tubes, tape, strings, toy cars and blocks to design a machine that eventually popped a balloon with a pin.

“One of the more difficult activities this year was the teamwork exercise,” said Paul Anger, camp coordinator and Discovery Park Campus director. “In these exercises, campers worked together to accomplish goals (such as) five people walking in unison on wooden rails and using ropes and rubber tubes to pick up cans as a team to move them.”

An annual favorite of the campers was the archery lesson, where students learned proper techniques and physics principles in archery.

Evenings were finished off with inspirational activities such as outdoor viewing of the movie “Hidden Figures,” about African-American women working at NASA in the 1960s, who played an integral part using mathematics in the launch of astronaut John Glenn into space.

The culminating event of the camp was a visit to the Besh-Ba-Gowah archaeology site in Globe, where students learned about the prehistoric Native Americans who lived in the area through a video, a walk through the ruins, and a visit to the large display of pottery and artifacts found in the adjacent ruins.

The camp experience is led by Dr. Phil McBride, EAC dean of instruction, who sponsors the event through a STEM Education grant to the EAC Science Department from Science Foundation Arizona. All of the leaders and chaperones involved are dedicated to STEM education and include: McBride and his wife, Paula; Jackie Madsen, EAC Discovery Park Campus secretary; Mark Madsen, EAC mathematics instructor (retired); Felicia Smith, Duncan Middle School science instructor; Heather Dillman, Fort Thomas High School technology instructor; Tawnie Anger, Pima Jr. High math instructor; and Paul Anger.

“We organize the EASI Summer Science Camps as an opportunity for our local students who have an interest or aptitude in science to participate in extra-curricular events with a lot of hands-on activities from knowledgeable instructors,” Paul Anger said. “We want to help these students build an interest in science and technology, and seek advanced STEM courses when in college (to) ultimately excel in careers in science.”

EASI is a collaboration of individuals from throughout eastern Arizona, including local educators, administrators and community members who have a united goal of attracting students to science and improving STEM education throughout eastern Arizona.

“EASI is supported by a lot of great people and organizations,” Paul Anger said. “We sincerely appreciate those who helped make the Tonto Creek STEM Camp such a great success, the EAC Science Department’s sponsorship through a Science Foundation Arizona grant, our friends at Freeport-McMoRan and the Valley of the Sun United Way for supplies and expenses.”

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