Area Youth Gearing Up To Explore Math and Science Adventure at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Set To Host Fifth Annual ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp for Middle School Students

June 28, 2012

Pictured here, past area middle school students enrolled in the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at Rensselaer participate in a exercise that was held on the Rensselaer campus.

Forty-eight area middle school students are curing the summer “brain drain” this year with a heavy dose of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fun at the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp hosted by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The hands-on program offers students an exciting way to beat the heat as they design space suits, build rockets, and more while experiencing life on a college campus. This is the fifth year that Rensselaer has been selected to participate in the program.

From June 24 to July 6, the program is providing students with an insider’s look at engineering and other science careers. The program also works to reinforce critical-thinking skills, encourage innovation, and curb summer learning loss.

“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 at Rensselaer, 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 connection between the exciting interactive experiments and field excursions and the core curriculum taught by our highly qualified and motivated teachers.”

As part of the hands-on, STEM-based curriculum, on Monday, July 2, students will participate in a “Space Day” competition, where they will be challenged to create and design durable spacesuit swatches using household items, which mimic protective materials. Teams will test the strength of their samples using an “impact tester” that imitates the rigors experienced during spacewalks. The event, beginning with brief remarks, will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. in the Russell Sage Dining Hall.

Before the contest, campers will hear from former astronaut Bernard A. Harris Jr., as he shares his inspirational journey to become the first African American to walk in space and the extreme elements he encountered during his two Space Shuttle missions. Harris and ExxonMobil engineers will work alongside campers, offering guidance as students use math and science skills to construct their designs.

“The program delivers engaging instruction and mentorship to underserved youth at 20 camps across the country,” said Harris, veteran astronaut and camp founder. “Through this opportunity, students have access to highly qualified educators and professionals who work to develop students’ leadership and problem-solving skills, which are critical components of success.”

The all-expenses-paid camp focuses on teamwork and hands-on activities such as building and designing rockets, bridges, and space suits. Area teachers will show campers science and math at work in their community through field excursions to local ecosystems and trips to area museums.

“ExxonMobil is committed to encouraging interest in science and math,” said Suzanne McCarron, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation. “These camps are one way to equip our nation’s youth with skills needed to be competitive in an increasingly global economy.”

Research from the Center for Summer Learning at John Hopkins University indicates summer learning is crucial to academic performance. Without continued instruction and practice during summer, most students lose more than two months of grade-level equivalent math skills. The study also found low-income youth experience more learning loss than any other socioeconomic group due to a lack of access to academic programs. 

This summer marks the seventh consecutive year ExxonMobil Foundation and The Harris Foundation have partnered to offer science camps that help close the achievement gap.

“Working with middle school students who love science, technology, math, and engineering is a distinct privilege, and Rensselaer is honored to continue to help prepare these students for success in achieving their dreams,” Smith said.

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Press Contact Jessica Otitigbe
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