Oct 04, 2022 11:26 am

Pierce College EDI CARES successfully launched a record number of ten different culturally empowering summer camps to meet the needs of high school age youth in Pierce County this summer. Through these summer camps, EDI CARES served over 160 middle school and high school students in Pierce County. These camps were open to all students in Pierce County and our top six feeder schools included Curtis High School, Clover Park High School, Lakes High School, Lincoln High School, Harrison Prep (Middle School) and Washington High School. These camps were held in person at the Fort Steilacoom campus throughout July and August.

The Pierce College EDI CARES department’s main mission is focused on providing our most powerful and capable students a brave space where their lived experiences are affirmed and validated. Our goal is to cultivate a space where students take pride in their cultural heritage, and learn to utilize their brilliance, ingenuity, and resilience to perform at their highest level of excellence. Through the hard work and diligence of retention managers, administrative staff, student ambassadors and the EDI CARES leadership team, they designed and facilitated all program curriculum and activities to ensure the camps centered racial equity and were highly engaging.

These 10 summer camps were diverse and centered on the following themes: racial equity, STEM, college and career readiness, financial literacy, environmental injustice, and indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing. Each camp also represented an academic pathway and students had the opportunity to engage in subject matters from writing, science, engineering, arts and more. The emphasis on academic pathways provided students the opportunity to learn about their field of interest, clarify college and career aspirations, and connect with college mentors, faculty and staff.  Additionally, these summer camps represented an intentional collaboration between the college and our external community partners. Community partners included the Puyallup Tribe Language Department, Puyallup Tribe Fisheries Department, Rainbow Center, College Success Foundation, Microsoft and more!

Here are some highlights from our 10 summer programs: 

Upward Bound Summer Academy

Camp Leads: Bess Nuland, associate director of pre-college access; Dominique Ellerson, retention manager; and Jasmine Justice, program coordinator

Each summer, Upward Bound Clover Park High School students participate in a six-week academic enrichment program on the Pierce College Fort Steilacoom campus. Summer Academy allows high school students to experience the college environment while taking dynamic classes designed to engage students and prepare them for the rigor of college-level academics.

“At the heart of Upward Bound’s Summer Academy is the Hawaiian saying ‘He wa'a he moku, he moku he wa'a,’ which translates to ‘the canoe is an island, the island is a canoe,’” said Associate Director of Pre-College Access Bess Nuland. “Through paddling trips with the Muckleshoot youth program and the Hawai’ian paddling club, students learned how their experiences on the water help them navigate their lives and their responsibility to community off the water. These themes ran throughout the summer as students also used mathematical equations and coding skills to design more efficient homes, explored the power of language to express the African American experience, and learned to communicate and connect in Spanish.”

VAKA (meaning boat canoe in Polynesian)

Camp Lead: Kiana Fuega, EDI CARES’ community engagement specialist

VAKA is a weeklong summer camp where students get to take a Pacific Islander approach to exploring indigenous knowledge systems in STEM and cultural arts. Students had the opportunity to learn about their relationship to land and their environment and attended workshops on the relevance of Pacific Islander to STEM based learning and college and career readiness.

“VAKA provided a space for students to explore STEM through a Pacific Islander approach,” said Community Engagement Specialist Kiana Fuega. “STEM is often viewed from a one dimensional cultural lens, and we often don’t recognize the value that indigenous people play in the field of STEM. VAKA focused on cultural pride and preservation, and the importance of honoring those who have come before us.”

LINK (Legacy of Indigenous & Native Knowledge)

Camp Leads: Archie Cantrell, coordinator of the Puyallup Tribe’s Language Department, and Dr. Ciera Graham, dean of student success, EDI CARES

LINK focused on engaging students in learning about the ancestral language of the first people of the Tacoma area. Through our partnership with the Puyallup Tribal Language Program, students joined in song and dance, traditional storytelling and played bone games.

“It was rewarding and humbling to teach students our Native language and culture,” said Archie Cantrell, coordinator of the Puyallup Tribe’s Language Department. “Students were immersed heavily into indigenous culture and learned everything from cultural traditions, and playing bone games. We also had the opportunity to have a conversation with me about the importance of attending college. The day focused on community empowerment, and it was great to be part of the day.”

Future Griots

Camp Leads: Derrick Estrada, faculty from the English department, and Dr. Ciera Graham, dean of student success, EDI CARES

Originating in West Africa, the term Griot refers to someone who keeps the oral tradition alive through poetry, music, and the art of storytelling.  Through the exploration of poets like Audre Lorde, Prof. Estrada took students on an empowering and engaging journey to discover their inner griots. Students learned how to make a haiku and participated in an interactive group storytelling and creation session.

“We shared personal stories, created together, and conquered fears together,” said Prof. Estrada. “We didn’t just create, we grew. Individually and as a group. Students entered that morning a bit nervous and unsure. They left proud and empowered. Our EDI Cares camp built a community of griots that day.”

Imagine U: Women of Color Empowerment Camp

Camp Leads: Ashley Kay Smith, program officer, College Success Foundation, and Dr. Ciera Graham, dean of student success, EDI CARES

This one-day camp experience focused on uplifting, affirming, and validating the experiences of women of color high school students. Students built community through games, dance and workshops. They also learned about post-secondary opportunities at Pierce and beyond, and learned everything about the college admissions process, scholarships, and financial aid.

“It was empowering to step into a room with so many bright, passionate, and beautiful women of color,” said Ashley Kay Smith of the College Success Foundation. “They were all really reserved in the beginning, but to see the transformation of them embracing their true selves and living in their authenticity was so amazing.”

TREES (Transforming Racial Equity into Emerging Scholars)

Camp Leads: Jennifer Bradley and Aki Smith, EDI CARES retention managers

This three-week camp experience focused on exploring themes of combating racism and environmental injustice, using technology to solve real-world problems, and building skills for lifelong learning and success. Students participated in engaging field trips to discover the cultural importance of salmon in the Pacific Northwest and investigating solutions for complex urban issues.

“It was such a transformative experience for us as educators to develop curriculum in partnership with the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, US Army Corp of Engineers, Pierce College professors and so many other local organizations,” said Jennifer Bradley and Aki Smith, retention managers for EDI CARES. “We were so proud to witness these young people choosing to engage with local environmental issues like salmon recovery, while developing scientific skills and building community on our college campus. By the end of camp, over 90 percent of our attendees reported a deeper passion for pursuing STEM degrees in order to make a positive impact in their communities.”

Legacy Coders

Camp Leads: Emily Anderson, engineer at Microsoft, and Dr. Ciera Graham, dean of student success, EDI CARES

This one-day camp focused on teaching middle school students fundamental coding skills. Students learned the Python programming language and used code to build a calculators. Students also learned about how computer science is applied to everyday life and popular culture, and career options in the field of technology.

“Legacy Coders gave me the opportunity to share my passion for technology with students in my local community,” said Emily Anderson, engineer with Microsoft. “We talked about all the possibilities that exist for them in the tech industry and by the end of the camp, a majority of the students were interested in pursuing careers in technology!"

James Baldwin Drummers Camp

Camp Leads: Javoen Byrd, Olympia-based ethnomusicologist, and Dr. Ciera Graham, dean of student success, EDI CARES

This one-day camp provided students the opportunity to learn about African music, drumming and dance specifically from Nigeria, Benin, and Togo, and African American history that covers rebellions that were inspired by drumming. The camp centered novelist and activist James Baldwin as he is a critical representation and symbol of how art can be used to fight and dismantle racial equity for the greater good.

“I enjoyed teaching students about African music, drumming and dance—and the importance of preserving cultural traditions,” said Javoen Byrd, ethnomusicologist. “Culture is so critical to society and for connection, and music allows us to connect in ways that traditional dialogue does not. It was a great and enriching time.”

NASA Space Camp

Camp Lead: Professor Hillary Stephens, physics and astronomy faculty

NASA Space camp was a weeklong experience designed for students in grades 6-12. Students had the opportunity to collaborate and compete with fellow campers on challenges and quests, discover the mysteries of the Solar System, plan a space mission, and find their place among the galaxies of the universe.  EDI CARES was a sponsor of this weeklong camp.

“Campers were excited to find peers whose interests aligned with their own and to have a safe space to geek out,” said Prof. Hillary Stephens. “There was a heated competition over who could take the most telescope pictures of Messier objects by the end of the week, and some of the most shy and reserved students came out in the lead by surprise. Other highlights included building bottle rockets and designing missions to Mars. Pierce College engineering students participated in the NASA Artemis Rover Challenge and demonstrated rovers they built to the campers mid-week and on Friday campers were able to watch the team participate in the challenge via live stream. By the end of the week, kids were lamenting the end of camp and asking why they didn't get to learn this way in school."