Students at Millikin Academic Summer Holiday, also known as SMASH Camp, were provided the opportunity to experience hands-on learning through various sectors including, energy, health, arts, food science, and media. Decatur School District 61 and Millikin University teamed up this summer to host SMASH Camp for rising middle school students for six weeks, June 4 to July 14.
SMASH Camp was created to engage an underserved and high-potential group of Decatur Public School students, to leverage the enthusiasm of experts who can inspire and challenge students and educators, and to promote inquiry-based learning approaches for both students and adults. Entrepreneurship was the overarching theme of SMASH Camp. Campers were challenged to come up with their own ideas, create something of value, and apply it to real world circumstances.
“The purpose and the underlining theme of the camp is that it’s all about the student, and that students don’t have to wait for someone else to step up and offer them an opportunity to do things,” remarked Sharon Alpi, Director of the Millikin University Center for Entrepreneurship. “There’s a difference between what students have to learn from a textbook and hands-on learning - having them explore, create, and be able to follow where their own thinking and creativity can take them. The majority of the students learned many new ways of thinking and creativity, and at the end of the day what we were trying to do is help them know that they can do all things.”
Over the duration of SMASH Camp, campers worked side-by-side with local companies and organizations to make new products, create value-added services, generate awareness around a critical topic, and create and perform an artistic piece for new audiences. Campers picked one career sector to concentrate on during camp. Each set of related sectors had lead partners who drove the projects and experiences for the students. SMASH Camp partners included, Caterpillar, Inc. and Richland Community College for the energy sector, Decatur Memorial Hospital for the health sector, and Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), 4-H, and the University of Illinois Extension for the food science sector. Millikin University hosted projects for the arts and media sectors.
“The campers enjoyed being on Millikin’s campus, and we wanted the camp to be a fun, learning environment,” remarked Andy Heise, Program Coordinator of the Center for Entrepreneurship. “It was a new and aspirational environment for the students and having all the community partners involved with the camp made it a great connection. Many of the facilitators were Millikin alums or current professors who recognize the success of Millikin’s approach to education.”
“This camp was an exact application of Millikin’s performance-based learning approach, specifically designed for middle school students,” remarked Heise. “SMASH campers came up with an idea, developed that idea, executed the idea, and created a final product. For many, SMASH Camp was the first time they ever experienced the process of entrepreneurship.”
Each sector of SMASH Camp featured projects. The media sector featured students spending one week working on radio programs that aired on WJMU (89.5 FM). The campers came up with the ideas, wrote the scripts and performed the radio programs. Campers of the food science sector worked on a project that involved cooking several versions of the same recipe in order to make it healthier and appealing to consumer tastes. Campers also wrote, performed and marketed a theatre production titled “Express” performed at Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre, Millikin University’s student-run theater. The students decided to name the show “Express” because they learned about expressing themselves.
“We made big strides this summer with performance learning. Having students see different applications of how they could build their own products was a big revelation for them,” remarked Heise. “The performance learning approach was a big shift in the way they were looking at things, and for a school district in a community this size to take the lead in doing a camp like this was very unique.”
Alpi agreed citing “the absolute collaborative engagement with the school district,” as the determining factor in what made SMASH Camp unique. “We applied the mindset of having the students explore, discover, experiment, and make it their own and that was the core of this camp,” remarked Alpi. “It was exciting to see the students be an active part of this campus. What we wanted them to do was find inspiration in higher education. I hope our role can become broader in terms of teachers, learners and leaders, and as teachers of entrepreneurship, we can do something specifically in terms of developing tools for the students.”
“SMASH Camp was a great summer experience for our gifted middle school students,” remarked Decatur School District 61 Superintendent, Gloria Davis. “We greatly appreciated the partnership with Millikin University and the wonderful college exposure it provided our students. We know that having our middle school students involved in project-based, high level learning is truly beneficial to their success toward high school and college graduation.”
Results of this year’s SMASH Camp will be presented at the 30th Annual Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education Forum on Nov. 10-12, 2012 in Atlanta, Ga.