After fourteen years, the UCA (University of Central Arkansas) Challenge, a science-based program for fourth, fifth and sixth graders, is still going strong.

Director and founder Lisa Herrington said she started the program years ago off the back of UCA Super Kids, which is aimed toward younger children with the same STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) concepts.

This week, 64 kids took the classrooms to experiment and learn about topics ranging from chemistry and testing acids and bases to flying paper airplanes and building working structures in engineering to dropping eggs out of windows.

Herrington spends her time during the school year teaching education at UCA.

She said one of the concepts she’s talks with her students about is how our brains are always looking for patterns and constantly wants to add to what it already knows … like adding documents to a filing cabinet.

UCA Challenge, Herrington said, allows the young students to not just memorize but to build knowledge that might help them later on in life.

She said it’s amazing to see how these kids don’t realize how much someone with a degree and all that goes into that.

That’s why engineering teacher, Ashley Hicks, took it a step further by highlighting the other aspects of the job that engineers experience apart from the building phase: planning, budgeting, research and sharing ideas.

Hicks — this is her second year to do the UCA Challenge — has a degree in engineering and said she’s more in her element this year and it’s been cool to see the students exposed to that.

She said it’s been so fun to see how creative the kids can be and while sometimes it’s complete chaos, it often ends in success.

“They can build some really awesome stuff in a short amount of time,” Hicks said.

That experience, Herrington said, is what the UCA Challenge is all about.

She said during the school year, often times, students don’t have time to spend exploring, but short by the need to get through the day and onto the next subject.

This camp, Herrington said, truly gives the opportunity to slow down, experiment, explore and grow through hands-on activities, failing, learning and trying again.

That mindset has trickled down to the students as well.

The Log Cabin Demorat spoke with Amelia Bartholomew and her team, Megan Arnold, Addison Connell and Sydney Madsen, who were working on their food car poster in the engineering class, which Bartholomew said was her favorite class because of the challenges and chance to win prizes.

“We’ve lost,” she said. “But, it’s still a lot of fun making stuff and working together.”

Arnold agreed and said it was her favorite class too.

“I like to be challenged,” she said.

The group agreed with that the fact that they enjoyed creating something new and working with team to do that.

“Even if we lose, it’s still a lot of fun,” Connell said.

Herrington said they try to foster that encouraging mindset above putting each other down alongside the academic part of the camp as well

Altogether, she said, it’s a unique experience and covers a lot of the curriculum and topics that may never be covered at the elementary level.

She said it’s grown through the years but her favorite part is still seeing sibling after sibling pass through and know how much the parents and children alike enjoy what it has to offer.