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Hooking rural students’ interest in STEM with a fish!

Clad in beaver-orange tees, 55 high-schoolers from rural Oregon came to OSU this summer for a four-day sleepover camp to tour the OSU campus, learn about financial aid options, experience college life—and dissect a salmon in the John L. Fryer Aquatic Animal Health Lab—all part of the Pathways Summer Academy.

The event was organized by Sheena Bettis, Education Coordinator for the Oregon Pacific Area Health Education Center (OPAHEC), a federal and state-funded organization that supports rural and diverse communities. Coincidentally, Bettis is also an OSU microbiology alumna and in the process of applying to medical school). It was her idea to expand OPAHEC’s focus to include non-health-related STEM careers in addition to the program’s traditional emphasis on introducing underserved high school students to healthcare careers and college exploration.

“I wanted to make sure that the students I recruited were aware that you don’t have to be in a specific field to pursue a health-related career…and to see that science can be fun!” said Bettis.

Jerri Bartholomew and Pathways students.

A “fun” as well as “awesome but yet gross” and “really interesting” time was had by campers in the Fryer Aquatic Animal Health Lab under the expert guidance of microbiologist Jerri Bartholomew and her research team.

Students enjoyed a tour of the lab before settling in to dissect salmon, look for parasites like tapeworms, and learn how to depict accurately their work in pre- and post-dissection sketches. The hands-on salmon lab was very popular, and a few students even wrote afterward that they were inspired to consider science careers:

“My favorite part was getting to dissect the fish and learning ways on how they get parasites. I am actually looking into becoming a marine biologist because of you guys and what you showed me. Thank you!”

The four-day camp exposes students from rural, underserved areas to everything that a college like OSU can offer them as well as introduces them to career options that they might otherwise have never considered. In addition to the salmon lab, students got a general introduction to OSU, which included a campus tour and presentations from admissions, financial aid, and a panel of current students. The students also enjoyed a Robotics Club drone-racing workshop, tours of the Colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy and a dissection in the anatomy lab with medical students. 

The last day of camp students participated in a service learning project, where they designed and manned health booths at the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis’ health fair for elementary and middle school students.

The students, many of whom come from non-traditional, ethnically diverse and/or socioeconomically challenged backgrounds in Marion County, represent exactly the type of students the College of Science wants to attract as part of its strategic plan to increase diversity and create a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Kyra, a rising senior from Newberg, Oregon, is just the type of student who the camp was designed for. She identifies as multiple ethnicities, being half Chinese and half white, and has overcome many obstacles in her life, from financial instability to being the emotional support for her family after her brother left for the military. Before the Pathways Summer Academy, she didn’t really think that college was possible and figured she might get an EMT certificate at a community college. But after attending camp and being exposed to workshops in financial aid, college admissions and more, Kyra is inspired to aim higher.

“Pathways Summer Academy showed me what I want to become, to apply myself, and to work hard to achieve my dreams. I plan on coming to OSU when I graduate because of this amazing camp. Thank you!”

Exposure to science and other STEM-related careers and a taste of what college life is like can open students’ eyes to all of the possibilities of life beyond high school and beyond the obvious and well-trodden paths in their communities. Programs like Pathways that work in partnership with OSU and the College of Science are proven ways to connect underserved and non-traditional students and families to resources that can open doors to a college degree and a professional career, regardless of where they came from. Juntos Chemistry Camp and Mi Familia are two other programs that support underrepresented students.


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