Former NASA Astronaut Prepares Students for Success With Science Adventure Camp
Over the summer, area students sharpened their math and science skills during the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp hosted by Rensselaer. The two-week, all-expenses-paid program, founded by astronaut Bernard Harris Jr., is one of 20 camps that were held on university campuses
“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, 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.
“Over the last two years, the program has worked with area teachers, GE scientists and engineers who serve as mentors, and students and faculty from Rensselaer who have introduced and
inspired the girls to have a lifelong love of discovery and innovation in the STEM fields.”
“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 also received an $80,000 grant from the Harris Foundation to support the program. This year, 48 middle-school students were selected from 32 schools across 11 Capital Region counties. The students immersed themselves in the world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fun. From June 23 to July 5, students were 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. Additionally, inspired by lecture remarks from Laurie Leshin, dean of the School of Science, students worked in teams on a RFP project to design the next mission to Mars.
In addition, as part of the program, students were focused on investigating the origins of life on Earth and the conditions that lead 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 School of 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.
The interactive, hands-on program also offered students an exciting way to beat the heat as they designed and built robots, rockets, and more while experiencing life on a college campus. On June 28, Rensselaer showcased its innovative camp curriculum with a unique “Space Day” competition, which challenged campers to create the most durable spacesuit swatch using household items. Rensselaer faculty and camp counselors, along with Harris and ExxonMobil engineers, worked alongside campers, offering guidance as students used math and science skills to construct their designs. Campers used an “impact tester” that mimics the extreme elements in space to determine the winning design, which must be capable of withstanding space debris.
“The Harris Foundation inspires kids to pursue STEM careers by providing them with hands-on science and engineering activities that help them sharpen their problem-solving skills and envision themselves in these careers,” said Harris.