Project Pelichi Photo by Christian Chaney

Project Pelichi campers listen attentively to a lesson during STEAM Camp.

Project Pelichi hosts seventh annual STEAM Camp

By Christian Chaney
July 5, 2023

Choctaw Nation’s Project Pelichi WILL, Warriors in Learning and Leadership, hosted their seventh annual STEAM camp from June 7-16.

The camp offered a variety of STEAM activities for students, including workshops, college trips and tours, cultural enrichment and more.

There are two sections for the camp, Junior High, grades 5-8, and High School, grades 9-12.

The camp is open to all students, though it has been predominately Native students who participate.

STEAM camp is different from other Choctaw Nation camps, as they take rubricked applications, counselor and teacher recommendations, grades, and letters of support to qualify for the camp.

Joy Tribbey, Program Manager and Director for Choctaw Nation runs three federal programs for Jones Academy. She says this camp is “the cream of the crop for Native students.”

The STEAM camp has formed a plethora of partnerships, some of which include NASA, Auburn University, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Tulsa, Northeastern State University, and Oklahoma State University.

According to Tribbey, they always try to help students connect with these universities and the tribe.

“One good thing about this camp is we help them tie in connections. If they are looking for scholarships or something, we are always a resource for them. We connect them to other departments in the tribe,” said Tribbey.

Each camp kicked off day one with team-building activities, such as STEAM challenges, games, and activities focused on getting to know each other.

Junior camp, which is three days long, commenced with students traveling to Kiamichi Tech in McAlester, where they participated in forensic science, criminal justice and basic nursing health sciences seminars and activities.  They ended the day with a slime war and cookout.

On the final day of the camp, Choctaw Nation’s Cultural Center staff presented and conducted activities for art day.

This particular section of the camp started after a vast majority of students in recent years said in their exit interviews that they were interested in learning more about their culture.

High School campers began their week by visiting OSU-IT and participating in culinary arts and animation design, ending the day with fun intermural activities.

On day two, Shelbie Vaught with Valliant Schools presented the NASA curriculum.

Each student received an Artemis rocket to launch and take home. Students ended their day in Jones Academy’s esports lab, competing and participating in graphic design activities.

On day three of the camp, students and staff members traveled to the University of Oklahoma, where Native Nations hosted them.

Students toured the campus, National Weather Center and the Tom Love Innovation Hub.

On Wednesday night, Lunar Sooners, OU’s Astronomy Club, took the students stargazing.

The camp concluded with Choctaw Nation’s Cultural Center staff presenting and conducting activities for art day.

Former camper, Cordell Palmer, spent five years attending the camp and has now returned for his second year as a staff member.

“The best part about camp was the exposure, going to universities every single summer, learning from different professions,” Palmer said. “We did everything from drones to personality tests, engineering and coding. The exposure helped me narrow down what I wanted to do one day.”

Palmer was nominated by Choctaw Nation leadership through the STEAM camp for the AISES, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Sequoyah award and won, making him a lifelong member of AISES.

According to Palmer, he is motivated to return to the camp each year as a staff member because of everything the camp did for him.

“I want to return everything they did for me and be here for these students and help the next generation figure out what they want to do one day and foster their love for the sciences and engineering,” said Palmer.

Currently, Palmer is studying political science at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and plans to attend law school and work for Choctaw Nation’s Legal Department.