Students in elementary school, some who just finished the second grade, are getting a jump on their academics by participating in the Railway Camp hosted by UTRGV.

Dr. Constantine Tarawneh is the Associate Dean of Research in the College of Engineering and Sciences and heads The University Transportation Center for Railway Safety.

“We teach students basics of fundamentals in math, physics, science and Newton’s Law,” Tarawneh said. “They’re applications that are related to transportation.”

The largest STEM camp in the nation is in its fourth year and is held in Edinburg with professors and current UTRGV students teaching youth from 26 Rio Grande Valley school districts.

Many of the students have never had the opportunity, before now, to engage in engineering projects.

“Elementary students do magnetic levitation kits, magnetism, work with the forces of friction and so forth,” said Tarawneh.

Tarawneh said middle school students who participate in the week-long camp experiment with robotics, and use Legos to build their own robots to perform difficult tasks.

“It’s fascinating to get a robot to do stuff and the process is kind of fun,” said Nicolas Lamas from Progreso ISD.

In a separate room on the large college campus, high school students engage in robot competitions.

Getting the students to this point is the big task at hand because many students don’t find their way to STEM courses or careers. That’s why UTCRS organizers are getting them excited about it at a much younger age.

“It’s important to start instilling STEM education as early as elementary because what we are finding is when they get to university, we get them underprepared,” said Tarawneh.

Luckily, these students are one step ahead of the rest after this camp, regardless of their background or class rank during the school year.

“It’s really fun. You get to do so many things that you would never get to do,” said Brayden Londre, who will be entering the 3rd grade at Olmito Elementary.

School districts work with the university to fund the camp for the students. The camp concludes June 30 with an awards ceremony scheduled for July 6 at the Performing Arts Complex on the UTRGV Edinburg campus.