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E-news Online June 2011

Area Youth Conquer Summer ‘Brain Drain’ at Summer Science Camp

Photo by Zak Richards
Camper Joli Millner is pictured here with former astronaut Bernard Harris. During last year's camp, Millner's victory on Jeopardy Kids' Week aired on national television.

Area middle school students are curing the summer “brain drain” this year with a heavy dose of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fun at the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp hosted by the University of Virginia Center for Diversity in Engineering. The hands-on program will offer 54 middle school students an exciting way to beat the heat as they design spacesuits, build rockets and more while experiencing life on a college campus.

“Summer learning opportunities are crucial to continued academic success,” said Dr. Bernard A. Harris, Jr., veteran astronaut and camp founder. “In partnership with the ExxonMobil Foundation, we are able to offer students a tremendous opportunity to hone the math, science, communications and leadership skills needed to realize their full potential. Our goal is to inspire them to reach beyond the classroom and pursue careers in critical technology fields.”

For the sixth consecutive year, the ExxonMobil Foundation has partnered with Harris and his nonprofit organization, The Harris Foundation, to provide residential camps to underrepresented and underserved middle school students at 25 universities across the country. This is the fifth year U.Va. has participated in the program. The camp runs from June 19–July 1.

“ExxonMobil is committed to inspiring the next generation of creative thinkers and innovators who will be critical to our nation’s economic success,” said Suzanne McCarron, president of ExxonMobil Foundation. “By partnering with Dr. Harris, we are able to provide talented young students with hands-on experiences that could lead them to a career in math, science, engineering or technology.”

During an upcoming “Space Day” event on June 30, the U.Va. campers will be joined by 48 fellow campers from Howard University. They will learn about Harris’ inspirational journey to become the first African-American to walk in space and the extreme elements he encountered during his historic spacewalk. They will also hear from Margaret Parnell, vice president of technology at ExxonMobil, about her science and technology career experience.

Campers will then be given the opportunity to become spacesuit engineers for the day. Students will be tasked with designing and creating a spacesuit swatch capable of absorbing the impact of space debris. Using household items to mimic essential protective materials, students will assemble a test sample to submit for friendly competition. Using an “impact tester” to imitate the rigors faced during spacewalks, students will test the durability of their sample.

The demand for workers with strong math and science skills is significant, as eight out of 10 of the fastest-growing occupations in the nation are in STEM fields, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The camp program aims to fill this critical need by offering a curriculum that features hands-on experiments, team competitions and field excursions to help students build essential skills. Campers receive quality instruction from local educators and hear from ExxonMobil engineers about the exciting and rewarding aspects of their profession.

“We have seen this experience positively impact youth in our community, and look forward to witnessing our students’ dramatic growth as they gain valuable knowledge and a passion for math and science this summer,” said Carolyn Vallas, director of the Center for Diversity in Engineering and of U.Va.’s ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp. “We understand the important role STEM programs such as these play in preparing students for the high-tech careers of tomorrow.”

For more information, please visit the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp website,