Back to Blog
Behind the NIHF Scenes

Meet Kristin Thorsen, Regional Program Manager at NIHF

As a regional program manager at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), Kristin Thorsen works with schools and districts in Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas, Northern Illinois and Missouri to inspire children through hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education programs.

Prior to joining NIHF, Thorsen spent four years as the assistant director of technology for Illinois’ McHenry School District 15. Before that, she helped integrate technology and promote innovation for nearly 11 years in the Crystal Lake Elementary District 47.

Impressively, beginning in 2002 and throughout her career, Thorsen has served as a Camp Invention® Director, helping implement the K-6 summer STEM program and watching it grow and evolve throughout the years. To learn about her Camp Invention experience and how she decided to join the NIHF team, we welcome you to read our conversation with Thorsen below.


How did you originally decide to become a Camp Invention Director?

I was a gifted facilitator at the time (2002). A parent of one of my students reached out to the district and asked that we explore Camp Invention as an option to offer in the summer. She wanted her son to have an opportunity to explore and have an engaging learning experience that was different from a traditional summer camp or sports experience. Our district’s director of gifted education reached out, and I volunteered to be the Director.

At the time, I had never heard of Camp Invention or NIHF. It sounded like a wonderful experience for the students, and especially the gifted students I was working with. The first year had a waiting list after a month of opening the registration portal.

After the first summer, our community fell in love with the camp and I had students who would come back year after year, becoming a Leader-in-Training (LIT) and then a Leadership Intern (LI).


In what ways did Camp Invention evolve through your 20 years as a Director?

There were behind-the-scenes logistics that evolved over the years. You could tell there was a tremendous amount of thought that went into the decisions to continue making the experience better for both the students and the Program Team Members.

Today, Directors will find materials arrive to their site color coded and labeled. Inside each box are labeled bags for each day’s activities. These changes have been a huge benefit to the Program Team Members, as we all know our time is so precious.

The heart of the program has stayed the same throughout all my years of directing. The experiences stay with a child for a lifetime. The modules are always rich, and students are able to find ways to connect with them and learn so much!

Something else that has never changed is the support. There is tremendous comfort knowing there is a team of people who will help you make the program successful — from recruiting Program Team Members, to increasing enrollment, to making sure the materials arrive in a timely fashion.


What are some memorable experiences you’ve had as a Camp Invention Director?

Seeing the growth in children as they move from camper to LIT to LI. It is a testament to the program and how it grows curious kids into innovative leaders who share their passion with the next generation of campers.

I remember one year a group of boys had been talking about vehicles throughout camp. They all came in one day at the end of the week with a hovercraft they had put together on their own time outside of camp — with a battery source and everything!


Do you think camp has had a lasting impact on your students?

Kids are naturally curious. We witness this as toddlers explore the world and are always asking, “Why?” As they go through school, there are kids who start to lose this curiosity and youthful exploration. NIHF programs help foster this curiosity so children develop into the next innovators.

Another benefit to our programs is the impact they have on Program Team Members. Even without a STEM background, Program Team Members are provided opportunities to learn and grow. The Innovation Mindset is a thinking strategy that works in all classrooms and all subject areas. My Instructors have shared how they have taken the innovative teaching strategies we demonstrate in our curriculum back to their regular classrooms during the school year.


In what ways did your experience as a Camp Invention Director influence your decision to work for NIHF?

Camp Invention has been the one constant throughout my career in education. It fosters my love of hands-on, engaged learning. When the pandemic hit and summer programs were in question, I was highly impressed with the way NIHF pivoted and created Camp Invention Connect®, an online option of our summer camp. It was an easy decision to come work for NIHF when the opportunity presented itself.


What would you tell educators who might be interested in teaching at Camp Invention or bringing the program to their district?

Camp Invention offers a rewarding experience. It brings great joy seeing the students embrace the modules and truly enjoy learning. Camp Invention has a way of empowering the staff and students, and I always hear that they want more!


Learn More

Interested in learning how you can bring NIHF’s invention education programs to your district? We invite you to visit our website!

Related Articles