Kids’ Tech University is returning to Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus for its 11th annual spring program. Hosted by the Fralin Life Sciences Institute in partnership with Virginia 4-H, Kids’ Tech University bridges the gap between scientists and kids to make science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) more hands-on while investigating a variety of topics. Alongside Virginia Tech undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty, kids will catch a glimpse of what it’s like to be a college student.

Registration is now open on a first-come, first-served basis for children between the ages of 9 and 12, regardless of place of residence or academic achievement. The curriculum will address a variety of topics, ensuring that there is something for every interest.

Mornings will start with an interactive session led by a diverse group of researchers and professionals that will have a “university feel” to immerse students in the experience. Then, the kids will take a break for lunch at one of the university’s award-winning dining halls to feel what it’s like to be on a college campus. Following lunch, the afternoons are busy with a variety of hands-on activities and exhibits organized by clubs, organizations, and labs from across the university.

Kids’ Tech University has four program dates for the semester, and participants and parents are expected to attend all four. The schedule for the spring 2020 Kids’ Tech University semester includes:

  • Jan. 25, 2020: “Is calling someone a bird brain really an insult?” by Kendra Sewall, associate professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech and an affiliate of the School of Neuroscience.
  • Feb. 15, 2020: “OUCH!!! Why does stuff hurt?” by Kristofer Rau, assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.
  • Feb. 29, 2020: “Did you know that mosquitos are super smart?” by Chloé Lahondére, research assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Biochemistry.
  • March 28, 2020: “The Real C.S.I.” by Kevin Patrick, director of the Western Laboratory for the Virginia Department of Forensic Science.

The programs will run from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Parents and guardians are invited to watch the morning session from a different lecture hall on campus but are required to drop off and pick up their child(ren) from the interactive session, accompany them to lunch, and join their young learners for the afternoon.

“We try to engage the kids and support their excitement over science. We do ask the parents to go around to the different activities with their kid to also get that exposure about learning the science, interacting, and having fun,” said Kristy Collins, director of Kids’ Tech University.

Making slime is a crowd favorite every year at Kids’ Tech University. Courtesy of Kids’ Tech University.

The afternoon sessions are filled with a variety of activities to get kids hands-on with science while learning from and forming relationships with volunteers. For example, residents from the science-focused Orion Living Learning Community volunteer annually to share their love of science and get kids excited about STEM.

The Microbiology Club, which hosts the longest-running Kids’ Tech University exhibit, will teach students about some of the tiniest organisms that have a huge impact on our lives: microbes.

“The Virginia Tech students learn the importance of being able to talk about microbiology in a way that others can understand, and they serve as role models for the K-12 students,” said Ann Stevens, the academic advisor for the Microbiology Club at Virginia Tech. “We try to give the children the experience of being a scientist for a short time. Hopefully they will decide that science is something they find interesting. It is important for children to see the wonders of scientific discovery for themselves and hopefully follow a path to further schooling and then jobs in the STEM fields.”

Furthermore, support from the Carilion Educational Fund will allow kids to learn about health and medicine. They’ll learn how to suture with Delta Epsilon Mu, co-ed professional pre-health fraternity; observe how smoking damages lungs; and taste exotic fruits and vegetables, just to name a few.

Registration for Kids’ Tech University is capped at 450 students. There is a nonrefundable registration fee of $100 per student, which includes all activities, lunches, and a T-shirt. Parents are able to apply for scholarships at the time of registration.

Rasha Aridi