Oregon Middle School Students Get an Astronaut’s Education.

Math and science are the emphasis at this camp
Math and science are the emphasis at this camp

If middle school students don’t seem likely to devise a spacecraft that could bring humans to Mars, or a module that could support a crew of four to travel and live there for 700 days, think again.

Forty-eight Oregon middle school students from underrepresented and underserved populations are currently using creative teamwork and their knowledge of Earth systems to solve those problems at this year’s Oregon ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at OSU.

The classes students are attending throughout the two-week residential camp are helping them prepare for these tasks — they’re learning about the interrelationships of calories for energy, plant production, soils, living things, water and landforms, habitat components and solar energy.

Competition to get into the camp is stiff — more than 400 students who are entering grades 6-8 applied to earn a spot — and students come from 21 of Oregon’s 36 counties.

The idea, says the camp’s executive director Virginia Bourdeau, is to follow kids who have been in the program throughout the rest of their schooling. Do they take more math and science courses after attending camp? Do they go on to college?

“The camp is an opportunity for students to come and say, ‘I can do this.’ If they have a positive experience, they’ll come back to a university when they’re 17 and 18,” Bourdeau says.

Bernard Harris, the first African-American astronaut to walk in space, visited the camp on Aug. 7. He founded the Bernard Harris Foundation in 1998 to develop math/science education and crime prevention programs for America’s youth.

The camp is the result of a grant from the ExxonMobil Foundation and the Bernard Harris Foundation, as well as the effort of OSU’s Extension 4-H Youth Development; College of Education, Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences (SMILE) program; Department of Science and Mathematics Education in the College of Science; and College of Engineering.

To follow the students’ progress, check out the Science Camp blog.

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