The Great Plains STEM Education Center at Valley City State University recently hosted 33 North Dakota students from New Town and Trenton in its Middle School STEM Academy.The first week of the academy, held June 16-20, brought a cohort of 12 rising eighth graders from New Town Public School back to Valley City this summer; the group had attended the first year of the academy in summer 2018 after completing sixth grade.The second week of the academy, held June 23-27, brought 10 students from New Town and 11 students from Eight Mile School District in Trenton to Valley City. These students had recently completed fifth or sixth grade.The academy aims to heighten awareness and participation among students typically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in this case Native Americans — while also enhancing students’ confidence in regard to academic and career aspirations, and introducing them to college life by working with university faculty in exploring academic disciplines, living in residence halls, and eating in the dining hall, for example. Academic topics included biology, chemistry, fisheries and wildlife science, kinesiology and human performance, astronomy, mathematics, engineering design, robotics, and computer coding, with an emphasis on the “21st-century skills” of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Also included were field trips to the Red River Valley Zoo in Fargo and VCSU’s Prairie Waters Education and Research Center in Kathryn for the younger cohort. The older group visited North Dakota State University, Doosan Bobcat and Microsoft in Fargo, along with the Sheyenne Valley Area Career and Technology Center in Valley City and the Dakota College at Bottineau nursing program suite on the VCSU campus.Leading the academy were Great Plains STEM Education Center personnel Jamie Wirth, Ph.D., director, and Gary Ketterling, Ph.D., education coordinator.“This year’s STEM Academy was a huge success,” said Wirth. “The students were immersed in a wide variety of engaging STEM academic content and career exploration opportunities. The evaluations completed by the students indicated that they very much enjoyed the experience and wish to come back again next year.”Going forward, the academy plans to add two new cohorts each year, while inviting members of each of the previous year’s cohorts back through their high school careers if possible.The VCSU Middle School STEM Academy receives financial support from New Town Public Schools, Microsoft, North Dakota United, and Valley City State University.