Day camps for building computers and robots have become a reality this summer thanks to a partnership between the Becker County Museum and TEAM Industries of Audubon.

Beginning July 19 and running through the end of August, the Becker County Museum will be hosting day camps that will allow participants to build-your-own computer and build-your-own robots. The museum's partnership with TEAM Industries allows for a reduced cost for the camps and provides students with skills needed to seek out more in-depth engineering interests in the future.

"It's a huge opportunity for the region to be able to experience STEM opportunities at a very reduced rate," said Becky Mitchell, director of the Becker County Museum. "I really think we're probably going to fill up with these camps because we've been steadily filling the spaces all summer."

During the computer building camp beginning July 19, for $175, participants will learn the different parts of a computer and assemble their own, fully-functional desktop with operating system by the end of the 3-day course. They will also receive a monitor, keyboard and mouse as part of the program, Mitchell said.

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"They assemble their computer which can result in some troubleshooting later because … if (the component) isn't in there just right it can cause some issues later, so then they'll need to go through some troubleshooting experiences as well," she said. "For $175, of course it's not a top-of-the-line machine, but it's really more about learning how to build it, how [the components] work together and how they can add to it."

Last year, Mitchell said, they had a middle school student who took the computer building day camp and built their own gaming computer later on in the year from the knowledge they received from the museum's camp.

These technology and engineering-focused day camps are designed to stimulate student interest in STEM career fields, but, artistic elements and creative thinking are also necessary, which make the day camps more STEAM-focused, said Mitchell.

Recently, the museum wrapped up their build-your-own pinball machine camp, which forced the participants to think about the engineering aspects, like rubber band placement for the pinball to interact with the board, as well as painting creative designs on their game boards.

Colorful pinball machine game boards are displayed for drying during a day camp hosted by the Becker County Museum in June 2021. (submitted photo)
Colorful pinball machine game boards are displayed for drying during a day camp hosted by the Becker County Museum in June 2021. (submitted photo)

A day camp participant shows off their pinball board with obstacles and rubber bands setup for their pinball to work through on their game board. The pinball machine day camp is one of many programs hosted by the Becker County Museum this summer. (submitted photo)
A day camp participant shows off their pinball board with obstacles and rubber bands setup for their pinball to work through on their game board. The pinball machine day camp is one of many programs hosted by the Becker County Museum this summer. (submitted photo)

On Aug. 24, for $75, day camp attendees will begin their build-your-own robot day camps. During the camp, students can build their own functioning robot to take home. The following week, an additional day camp will provide those participants with a chance to accessorize their robots, she said, and then, enter them in various tournaments with different end tasks.

Mitchell said the price point for the robotic camps would've been much higher if the museum hadn't entered into a partnership with TEAM Industries, a local manufacturer based in Audubon, Minn.

"STEAM, or STEM, right now, is huge as people are hearing more and more about it," said Sue Pederson, director of human resources for TEAM Industries. "High schools and junior highs have robotics teams, and more focus is going more and more to robotics and automation, so it's just a good fit."

She added the company believes in a family and community-centered focus, which means engaging with local schools and their programs, sponsoring robotics teams and making youth apprenticeship programs an option for high school students.

TEAM Industries offers a state certified apprenticeship program through the Lake Park-Audubon and Detroit Lakes school districts, which offers paid-positions to students to get their feet wet in the manufacturing industry.

"We try to give students opportunities to learn about manufacturing and kind of see what happens when they get those usable skills," said Pederson. "(Students) can work a few hours a day … and they opportunity to learn about how to run the machines."

The company will be bringing their sponsored St. Cloud State mobile classroom, which will be used by the museum for their robotics camps in August, to the Becker County Fair at the end of July for the public to walkthrough during the festivities.

Other camps being offered by the county museum in August include: coding camps, VEX robotics camp and a cut glass mosaic camp.

During the coding camp beginning Aug. 3, for $10, participants will learn how to code machines, like laser engravers, 3D-printers and virtual welders, and then manufacture the projects they coded using the actual equipment.

The VEX robotics camp, beginning Aug. 9, will be $10 and teach attendees the finer points of robotics with hands-on experience with various robotic machines.

"We have a lot of STEM-based industry in our area with entities like TEAM Industries, and SJE, and BTD, there are quite a few of them, and they all have this manufacturing base and they are all building their workforce for the future because there is a shortage in all those trade industries," said Mitchell. "To be able to experience these … could potentially help guide a student as they grow older in what kind of career path they want to take."