Support NIU STEAM Camps, Programs Through Huskies United
By Tony Scott

kbKristin Brynteson serves as director of NIU STEAM

The newly created Barb City STEAM Team afterschool club, which encourages middle school students to find their passion and excitement for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM), is one of a multitude of programs and events NIU STEAM provides to the University and the community. Donors can support such impactful experiences during the Huskies United day of giving June 22-23.

Kristin Brynteson, ’96, M.S.Ed ’07, Ed.D ’12, director of NIU STEAM, said NIU STEAM works with the DeKalb School District to identify middle school students who could benefit from the structured, rich, hands-on afterschool experience that the Barb City STEAM Team club provides. The program, which NIU STEAM just started in January, is ongoing during the school year and also during summer break. 

“We have students in the program that might not have the opportunities available to them normally,” she said. 

During the afterschool club, students get opportunities to work with student mentors doing STEM and STEAM programming. They take tours of the NIU campus, hear from industry professionals, learn about college and career readiness and connect with NIU’s cultural centers. 

“It’s really helping them be forward and future-thinking in a way they might not have the opportunity for,” Brynteson said.

In addition to those benefits, the club helps connect the students’ families to resources and gives them opportunities to network with each other, she said. 

Families have expressed their gratitude to NIU STEAM for providing their kids with the experiences and also basic needs, such as providing students with a snack and transportation to the NIU campus.

“We were speaking with one family, and they were talking about the transportation and the mother said ‘I would have no other way to get my student to this program,’” she said. 

The club is popular and thriving but additional funding would help the club bring in more guest speakers and augment the programming.

“The donations could provide bringing in a new guest speaker to introduce the students to a career path they might not realize is available, or it might bring in classroom supplies so they can get a hands-on experience and maybe spark an interest in a science concept or something they never though they would be good at because they’ve never had the opportunity to try it,” Brynteson said.

The Barb City STEAM Team is only one of many programs, clubs and experiences provided by the NIU STEAM staff. Brynteson said she has a staff of 12 full-time employees who provide STEM programming to kids and families, students and educators, and the community.
NIU STEAM gives presentations to schools; provides opportunities for hands-on experiences through extra-curricular activities such as their camps, clubs and traveling museums; raises educational aspirations, knowledge of STEAM topics and interest in attending NIU by coordinating campus visits, special events and camps at NIU; and helps improve the teaching of STEAM subjects through teacher collaboration and professional development activities at NIU colleges.

At the community level, NIU STEAM hosts its STEM Fest every year in October, as well as monthly STEM cafes featuring speakers and experts.

NIU STEAM also involves NIU students, hiring them as graduate assistants and student workers, along with volunteer opportunities, Brynteson said.

“We’re always looking for ways to bring learning opportunities to our NIU students through the programming we do for K-12 and the community,” she said.

Amy Jo Clemens, M.S.Ed ’89, Ed.D ’20, director of the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement, which is dedicated to lifelong learning and includes NIU STEAM as one of its five departments, is encouraging new donors to support STEAM programming for neighborhood youth, which includes the Barb City STEAM Team club. When 15 donors make their first-ever gift during Huskies United to STEM Pathways for Neighborhood Youth, Clemens has pledged to donate $500 to the cause.

“We would like to do more programming with these neighborhood kids,” she said. “We’d like to do shorter experiences with them, maybe two-day type thing or something when they’re out of school for the day, or maybe two- or three-day mini camps in the summer. There are a lot of needs in the DeKalb region, so we’d like to focus on better connecting the amazing experts and resources we have on campus with the kids right here in DeKalb and Sycamore.”

Brynteson said she would like to expand the camps to elementary or high school age students, and to do more of them. Donors have helped kids afford to go to camp who might not be able to, she said.

Funding from donors also helped reinvent the popular STEM Fest and bring it back to in person on campus following a virtual version in 2020. This year, they are expanding the event even further, Brynteson said.

“Last year we launched a juried art exhibit for NIU students and high school students,” she said. “This year we’re expanding that idea and looking at having a whole artist playground where we can really have our STEM Fest folks interact with and see just how art fits into the grand scheme of STEAM and interact with some of the artists on campus.”

“We’re always growing STEMFest and donations and sponsors help us make that possible,” she added.

Clemens said NIU STEAM impacts the University as well as the community, and donors like those giving during Huskies United help ensure that continues to happen.

“We help to make sure that the University has an impact on the community,” she said. “We have amazing experts and resources on campus, we’re doing amazing things with students every day. Every area being funded via Huskies United is valuable. The one thing we do a little differently is making sure that our programs can impact the region and the community around us. How do we make sure that the University is also giving back to the community and leveraging the great things we have going on so that our community members can benefit from them as well?”

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If you have questions about becoming an ambassador, please contact Liz McKee, M.S.Ed. ’14, at