Every year, Kids' Tech University (KTU), which is hosted by the Fralin Life Sciences Institute and Virginia 4-H, aims to inspire the future generation of scientists by bridging the gap between kids and experts in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Last year, the program had to address a gap of a different kind: distance. 

Kids' Tech University, like many other programs and activities, had to move to a virtual format for the first time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite its difficulties, the program was a success. Not only that, but kids were given access to locations and experiences they could never have imagined. 

The program drew interest from all across the country and the world, leaving Kristy Collins, the Fralin Life Sciences Institute's head of education and outreach, astonished.

“We have never had so much national reach - or any international reach for that matter - for this program,” said Collins. “We had kids from Florida, Georgia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland. Last year’s program was also attended by kids who were residing in Japan, Egypt, and Turkey.”

This year, the program will continue the tradition by hosting another virtual Kids' Tech University. Registration will open on Oct. 18 for the event, which will include topics such as origami nervous systems, oxidation-reduction processes, boat building, and more.

A man stands in front of an audience of children. On the projector screen behind him, there is a giant brain.
In February of 2020, Kris Rau spoke about the neural pathways of the body and demonstrated a human-to-human interface device, which allows one person to control the hand of another. Photo courtesy of Rasha Aridi for Virginia Tech.

Previously, Kids’ Tech University has been able to give the children a "university feel" by having them participate in interactive sessions in one of Virginia Tech’s lecture halls. However, now that the program has pivoted, students will be engaging with scientists and doing activities over Zoom. This year, closed captioning will be available for the interactive sessions.

Following the interactive sessions, kids will partake in hands-on activities from the comfort of their own homes. Kids will get kits in the mail, and they will need to use minimal, if any, items from their own houses. In addition to the scientists, Virginia Tech undergraduates will also be jumping in to lead kids and their parents through the exercises.

Parents are welcome to join their children in watching the interactive session and assisting them with the hands-on activities. For one activity in particular, parents may be required to assist with poking holes and handling sharp tools.

A woman demonstrates an activity about taste buds. Kids are asked to dry out their tongues and see if they can taste sugar or salt. Because the taste buds are not mixing with saliva, the kids can not taste anything.
Last year, Helena Carvalho, assistant professor from Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute, taught kids about the five senses. The hands-on activity was about taste buds. Photo courtesy of Kristy Collins for Virginia Tech.

The schedule for the spring 2022 Kids’ Tech University semester includes:

  • Jan. 29, 2022: An interactive session led by Amanda Morris, a professor of chemistry in the College of Science. The oxidation-reduction process of salt water will be the subject of the tentative hands-on activity.

  • Feb. 26, 2022: An interactive session led by Kristofer Rau, an assistant professor of basic science education in the Virginia Tech-Carilion School of Medicine. For the tentative hands-on activity, kids will create a STEAM hand model and origami nerve systems.

  • March 19, 2022: “Did you know that mosquitoes are super smart?” The interactive session will be led by Luis Escobar, an assistant professor of fish and wildlife conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. The tentative hands-on activity for this session will be about color adaptations. Kids will complete a “Build a Bug” activity with Improv.

  • April 2, 2022: An interactive session led by Dewey Spangler, the manager of the Virginia Tech Ware Lab and Advanced Engineering Design Lab. Kids will be building a boat for the tentative hands-on activity.

Kids and their parents are asked to attend all four program dates during the semester at Kids' Tech University. Morning sessions will begin at 9:30 a.m. and end at 12:00 p.m. Children who enroll in the program will receive Virginia Tech undergraduate application fee waivers from the Virginia Tech College Access Collaborative.

Registration will operate on a first-come, first-served basis, and the program will be limited to 350 participants. Registration will close on Jan. 5, 2022, or when the program is full. Children from both the United States and other countries are encouraged to enroll.

A registration fee of $65 per child will be charged upon registration to cover the costs of offering a high-quality program. No refunds will be given. Parents will also have an option to apply for a scholarship during registration.

For more information, please check the Kids' Tech University website or contact Kristy Collins at kdivitto@vt.edu.

Share this story