CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Katie DeLuca looked down at her hands.
She was holding a black board, speckled with pegs and wires, trying to make it work.
To do that - to get a small red light in the corner of the board to turn on - she'd have to do some soldering and fiddle with some wires. She'd also have to know something about electrical engineering - a subject that is rife with math and science skills.
"I like math because I'm a huge nerd," said DeLuca, a 16-year-old from Beckley. "But it's nice to know that I can make something with it. Like I made this, I'm actually proud of myself."
DeLuca was in the middle of a summer camp at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology in Montgomery that was devoted entirely to STEM subjects.
STEM - that's science, technology, engineering and math - has been garnering a lot of attention in the education community and the political sphere, where public officials are beginning to wring their hands about the lack of professionals in those fields to meet the country's 21st-century needs.
President Barack Obama called for a resurgence of STEM teaching as far back as his 2011 State of the Union address. In his State of the State address this year, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin noted the need for more qualified science and math teachers in public schools.
Indeed, a recent study from the American Institutes for Research and Change the Equation, a STEM advocacy group, found that in West Virginia only 58 percent of eighth-graders have a science teacher who took three or more advanced science courses in college. That's compared to 62 percent nationally.
"West Virginia needs to ensure that schools and students have opportunities to meet a higher bar," the report's authors wrote.
The same report found that in West Virginia, STEM skills are still in demand, despite the economic downturn: there are 3.1 jobs in STEM fields for every one unemployed person here, compared to one unemployed person for every one job in another field.
Ideas like that have spawned a slew of initiatives across the nation and state to foster more interest in STEM subjects among kids. A new partnership between West Virginia University and the state Higher Education Policy Commission, for example, will try to excite K-12 students about STEM subjects with social media and hands-on experiences, and then usher them into college to study those subjects.
And then there are places like Camp Stem at WVU Tech, which tries to get children interested in STEM subjects at a young age, hoping the excitement in the subject will be enough to influence their field of study later in life.
(Evidence may support this idea: a 2011 study from the University of Virginia, for example, found that students' interest and confidence in science and math influence their likelihood of pursuing careers in that field in college more than their achievement levels in those subjects.)