Summer of STEM: Step Up!

This summer we’re hearing from our amazing camp staff. Our Hope College students do the heavy lifting of planning, prepping, and teaching our hands-on camps all summer long! Each week, 2-3 student staff members will recap a camp they’ve led and share tips on how to keep the fun going at home!

Hi everyone! My name is Maddie Suhrheinrich and I am an upcoming senior at Hope College. I am currently studying elementary special education and am loving the opportunity to practice my classroom skills in Explore Hope Summer Camps!

During the past two weeks, I have led Step-Up’s Water Exploration Camp. Step Up is a program through Hope College that teams up with local middle school students to provide mentors and academic support. We explored the ideas of water quality in local areas, such as a stream in Zeeland and Lake Macatawa.

Campers learned about different factors of water quality. After collecting samples from the locations, they used hands-on water testing kits to test them. Once campers mastered their skills, small groups were able to create an investigation of their own! Each group posed a research question, collected and analyzed data, and produced a research poster they were able to share on the final day of camp. It was so exciting to see how their skills grew over the two weeks and how their creativity shined in their posters.

My favorite part of this camp was being able to visit different sites with the students to collect data. When at the sites, students would get into the water areas to collect samples. It was so fun to see all of their different personalities shine, as some were very eager to jump in the water and others were participating in a more behind-the-scenes matter. We had some good laughs, especially when one student’s shoes floated down the stream unexpectedly! I also loved being able to have time on the bus to sit and get to spend time with the kids in a non-academic setting. I felt a lot of our relationships were formed on these trips!

Another one of my favorite parts was watching each group of students present their research posters. It was so rewarding to see their hard work presented in a large way. Each group had a different poster where their personalities stuck out. I also loved watching the students who were not presenting support their fellow campers. And of course, it was fun to end with celebratory ice cream on their last day.

For anyone who is interested in completing an activity relating to water quality exploration, I have the solution for you! One of the main factors we tested was the pH of the water samples. To complete this at home with everyday household items, all you need is red cabbage and water! Blend 3-4 large leaves of red cabbage in a blender filled halfway with water. Afterward, strain the juice to make sure all of the chunks get out! Once you have this solution, separate it into different cups and add any substance of your choice to test the pH. Acids will turn red/pink and bases will turn blue/green! 

The past two weeks at Step-Up were such a rewarding experience. I was able to make valuable connections with my campers and assistant teachers and create so many exciting memories along the way. I am so grateful for the experience and the lessons I have learned to take with me in my future classroom!

Visit ExploreHope Summer Camps for more info. Although many of our camps are full, there are still openings for all ages. Scholarships are available for middle and high school students interested in environmental and engineering topics. Contact Lise at for more information, including questions about transportation options.

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