Camps Connect Teens + New Ford STEAM Lab Curriculum

In July, 23 teen campers learned first-hand what it’s like to be a tech entrepreneur during Henry Ford Learning Institute’s Ford STEAM Lab Camp. Ranging in age from 12-14, campers traveled from around the block and across the Detroit-area to the FREC Southwest to learn how to design, develop and pitch a mobile app. All campers attended free of charge through a grant from Ford Motor Company Fund.

The five-day camp is just one example of Ford Fund’s efforts to provide high-quality STEAM education opportunities. A focus on STEAM — which stands for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics – is critical to preparing young people for high-growth jobs.

Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI) brought together energetic coaches, knowledgeable mentors, and the new digital Ford STEAM Lab curriculum to create a fun, hands-on learning experience. Working together in groups, campers created mobile apps to help other middle school students engage in a meaningful summer experience.

“Teams began by using design thinking, a creative problem solving process, to help them understand the needs of people who would use the app; they also used the process to decide what challenges the app would solve for the people who use it,” explained Razi Jafri, the camp director. Tech mentors, like JOURNi’s Richard Grundy, then helped the teams identify the buttons and other features the app would have, and taught them how to use technology to create a prototype, which is an early version of the app. “It’s getting me more interested in how things work,” said 13 year-old Aamina Hussain midway through the week.

Local entrepreneurs worked directly with the teams to help campers understand what it takes to bring a product to market, including knowing how much to charge based on costs and how much people might pay for an app.

The week culminated with a “pitch” event, much like the hit TV show Shark Tank. Despite some nervousness during their preparation, the teams were impressive when presenting their apps and business plans to a panel of judges and a crowd of parents, coaches and other supporters. Shawn H. Wilson, Manager of Multicultural and Community Engagement at Ford Fund, served as a judge during the camp’s pitch event. He raved, ”To go through this process in just a week and have kids express their creativity with some tangible ideas, communicate what the app can do, and even discuss revenue models, is just amazing. I can tell that the parents were blown away by what their kids had accomplished.”

Another 25 budding tech entrepreneurs will have the same opportunity when the next session of HFLI’s Ford STEAM Lab Camp kicks off on Monday, August 14th at the FREC at Fisher Magnet Upper Detroit’s east side.

This article was originally printed in the FREC Southwest newsletter. To learn more about the Ford STEAM Lab digital curriculum or support for implementation, contact

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