Twelve-year-olds Sresta Tulasi and Katie Coyne spent hours hunched over a computer diligently testing a code they wrote.
They created a mathematical riddle that prompts the user to determine the “magic number.” The two giggled when the puzzle stumped their peers.
Jupjeet Dhingra, 17, helped them work on the code and refine the algorithm to be more efficient. Dhingra is a rising senior at North Allegheny High School and a math tutor during the school year. He says mentoring younger students is the most meaningful way to pass on the knowledge he’s acquired in high school.
The three students were surrounded by similar groups in the high school cafeteria during the first week-long summer camp coordinated by high school students for middle school students.
Co-founders Ashna Patel, 15, and Victoria Ren, 14, say they want younger students to discover a love for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) like they did.
"This age group is a really important time because they can grasp all of the information you are giving them and also you can change their lives – that sounds kind of weird. But, you can push them and be the person that tells them 'you can do this if you are interested,'" Ren said.
She said she loves the problem-solving aspect of science and presenting her own ideas. The two are active participants in the regional science fair. Patel said she’s had many opportunities to explore STEM, but not all area schools have the same resources as North Allegheny.
That’s part of the reason they wanted to offer a free alternative to expensive science camps. They secured sponsorships for their program “STEM and Buds” from big tech names like OpenArc, Argo AI and Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh.
They started the program last year as an after-school mentoring initiative, and chose to expand this year to a summer camp for a more immersive experience.
“We went to a lot of camps that talked about STEM, but that’s why we structured the curriculum as very free and individualized,” Ren said.
They know that not all of their peers are drawn to every STEM discipline. In Patel’s experience, while some might be interested in coding, they’re not excited about math.
“But there are so many fields in there. So if you give kids the freedom to choose what they actually like, then they’ll be able to find something they’re passionate about,” she said.
Patel and other high school mentors have guided the 40 middle school students who created a water filtration system with banana peels and designed a self-driving car.
“I think it definitely think it really changes the dynamic because it makes it more personable and less of someone talking at them and more talking with them about something they chose to learn about,” she said of having high school instructors.
STEM and Buds will offer another program later this month at the University of Pittsburgh.