Exploring Science While Having Fun

ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp to be held on campus June 22-July 4

Science Summer Camp

Former astronaut Bernard Harris Jr. (back row, second from left) founded the Summer Camp to give middle school students firsthand experience with STEM fields.

This summer, area middle school students who are also known as budding scientists and engineers will have an opportunity to work alongside professionals and a former NASA astronaut during the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp program that will be held on the Rensselaer campus.

Forty-eight students will immerse themselves in the world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fun. From June 22 to July 4, the students will be involved in a series of hands-on, team-based learning activities designed to reveal the science behind the latest technology, increase environmental awareness, and explore how math impacts daily life.

As part of the program, students will focus on investigating the origins of life on Earth and the conditions that have led to the formation of habitable planets in our own and other solar systems through the New York Center for Astrobiology, which is based within the Schoolof Science. Led by Douglas Whittet, center director and professor of physics, the interdisciplinary center—a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute—brings together researchers from multiple fields of study at Rensselaer as well as collaborators from other institutions around the country.

Space

As part of the program, students will focus on investigating the origins of life on Earth and the conditions that have led to the formation of habitable planets in our own and other solar systems through the New York Center for Astrobiology.

“At Rensselaer, we understand the important role STEM programs such as these play in preparing students for the high-tech careers of tomorrow,” said Cynthia Smith ’96, assistant dean of students, director of pipeline initiatives and partnerships, and the director of the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp. “Over the years, we have seen incredible enthusiasm and interest from our campers, sparked by the opportunity they have to see science and math at work in the community through the exciting interactive experiments, field excursions, and the core curriculum taught by our highly qualified and motivated teachers.”

Overall, 1,000 middle-school students have been selected to attend one of 20 camps held at universities across the country, where they will be immersed in hands-on STEM learning. The program, supported by the ExxonMobil Foundation, includes mentoring from Harris, the first African-American to walk in space and the camp’s founder. “From building models of bridges to designing robots and creating spacesuits, students see firsthand engineering, science, technology, and math come alive through real-world applications,” said Harris, who also serves as president of the Harris Foundation.

Throughout the camp, students will live on campus and participate in interactive, inquiry-based classes taught by Rensselaer faculty, secondary teachers, and other professionals. Campers also have the opportunity to explore local museums, nature centers, and ecosystems as a way to discover science at work in the 
community.

At Rensselaer, we understand the important role STEM programs such as these play in preparing students for the high-tech careers of tomorrow.”— Cynthia Smith ’96

The hands-on program also provides students with an exciting way to put the STEM skills learned to the test. On Friday, June 27, as part of the program’s curriculum, students will participate in the Mars Lander Challenge, a space-themed competition inspired by Bernard Harris. Using household materials, teams of students will design model spacecraft capable of protecting an astronaut during a planetary landing.

Students will also hear from local professionals about rewarding career options in STEM fields, which will continue to see growth in the need for skilled workers. Science and engineering jobs are projected to expand at more than double the rate of the entire U.S. labor force through 2018, according to a recent STEMconnector® report.

This is the seventh year that Rensselaer has been selected to participate in the program. “Rensselaer was selected this year as a camp host because of its long-standing commitment to math and science education, and its efforts to support and promote local community youth in these disciplines,” Smith said. Rensselaer received $80,000 from the Harris Foundation to support the program.

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