Thomas Pena recently spent a week in Bloomington, living in the dorms, going to class on a regimented schedule, and having little communication with his parents.
Sounds fairly par for the course for any college student. But Pena attends Tri-West Middle School, and is only 11.
Pena was one of a very select 70 middle schoolers selected to participate in the state’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Initiative, which was held for two weeks at Indiana University at Bloomington.
The nationwide initiative is designed to get middle school students more involved and excited about entering the fields of science and technology.
There, students delve into numerous activities, live as college students, and get a crash course on what post-secondary education would be like, all with a science theme.
“(Thomas) was really excited when we went to pick him up,” said David Pena, his father. “He said his favorite part of the camp was making an underwater robot and that it really just showed him the use of a lot of his classroom work in the real world, how it can help to get a job. It added to his passion for science.”
The process to get into the program was wide ranging. Thomas’ mother, Marney, said it wasn’t just a routine entrance exam and hoping to get in. There were about 1,000 children — all future seventh- and eighth-graders — who turned in applications.
From there, they had to write essays and provide an educational history. But Marney said that to her son, it was completely worth it.
“They got to build rockets and whoever’s went the furthest would win,” she explained of one of the projects. “He dissected a squid. They went down to some caves (to explore). They worked in programming and designing video games, so for a kid as attached to his Xbox as he is, it’s a really cool place to be. He has never been away from home this long, but he just had a blast.”