Kids’ University Helps Campers Reach for Higher Goals, Education

Kid's University, UT Dallas

More than 350 children got a glimpse of various careers and higher education at Kids’ University, which was held at UT Dallas.

From paleontology and engineering to music composition and meteorology, Kids’ University gave children from local homeless shelters a glimpse of various careers and higher education this summer at UT Dallas. 

The four-day camp introduces children of all ages to the university environment. In addition to science- and math-based sessions in engineering, weather and algebra, the 19th annual program offered lessons in health, music, golf, fossils, dance, yoga and law enforcement. 

Dr. George Fair, dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement, serves as UT Dallas’ primary liaison to Kids’ University. 

Fair said the University and Rainbow Days partnered to develop the program as an innovative response to the devastating impact that homelessness has on children’s educational opportunities. Rainbow Days is a nonprofit that provides children living in high-risk situations with the skills and support to overcome adversity and stay drug-free. 

Kids University at UT Dallas

Volunteers and organizations helped campers put their hands to work at Kids’ University, teaching them skills, including how to build a toolbox. 

“As shelters continue to operate at capacity during summer months, children have few options and often remain idle,” Fair said. “Kids’ University is an example of the difference that education and support can make in the life and future of a child who is homeless.” 

This summer, volunteers, professionals and organizations contributed in educating and encouraging the 351 campers. Since the program began in 1995, nearly 2,800 children have participated. 

Katie Anand, board member and president of the Auxiliary of Rainbow Days, said the camp teaches important life skills, including setting and achieving goals. 

“When they come in, they may have very low expectations for themselves in terms of what jobs they might get, and they come out with very high expectations and want to be veterinarians, doctors and engineers,” Anand said.

The participants got several hands-on lessons, including one class hosted by a home improvement retailer. 

“My favorite part was making those toolboxes. We got to hammer with nails,” said 8-year-old Rachel, who was delighted to use tools for the first time. 

Kid's University at UT Dallas

“Kids’ University is an example of the difference that education and support can make in the life and future of a child who is homeless,” said Dr. George Fair, congratulating a camper at the graduation ceremony. Fair, vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement, is UT Dallas’ primary liaison to the camp.

Damiean, 10, most enjoyed a class in which the students filled a clear ornament with colored sand. The different layers represented aspects of life with varying priority. 

“I learned that we should think about the important things that we need more than the things that we don’t really need,” Damiean said. “Instead of playing video games, I’ll get a job and listen in school.”   

Each year, the camp culminates with a graduation ceremony, helping the students envision graduating from a higher education institution. 

Commencement speaker Jeremy Calahan offered words of encouragement to the campers. 

Calahan, assistant head of middle school for student life at Parish Episcopal School in Dallas, played professional football with the St. Louis Rams and the Dallas Desperados. He told the children his story of struggle and perseverance through grade school, college and the NFL. 

“Through Kids’ University, you are given a wonderful opportunity to take a glimpse into how important it is that you are on a campus like this and to have a desire to get to college,” Calahan said. “It starts at a young age. It starts with you taking care of your business now. It starts with you being respectful, and you being well-behaved, and you taking your education very seriously and working hard at it. 

“Those grades build a foundation, and if you build a good foundation, you’re going to be able to achieve the goals you have in your life. I hope that you will dream big.” 

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].