July 17, 2014

Pioneering Astronaut Visits Science Summer Campers

Harris with campers
Bernard Harris Jr., M.D., assists campers in designing a shock-absorbing system out of paper, straws, plastic cups and mini-marshmallows. Photo by Nate Cowen

Bernard Harris Jr., M.D., the first African American to walk in space, met nearly 100 campers participating in the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at both Saint Louis University and Texas Tech on July 16.

Harris spoke about his educational background and his career with NASA to a classroom full of campers at SLU, as well as interacting with participants in Texas Tech via Skype. Harris received his medical degree from Texas Tech in 1982. 

"You were all born for a reason," he told the group of middle-school students. "It's your job to figure out what that reason is. And once you do, and if you work hard, I know you'll be successful." 

Following the talk and a short Q&A, campers took part in a space-themed competition — the Mars Lander Challenge — with Harris. They designed and built a shock-absorbing system using paper, straws, plastic cups and mini-marshmallows.

For the second year, SLU was chosen as one of 20 universities across the country — and the only one in the Midwest — to offer the camp, which is supported by the Harris Foundation and the ExxonMobil Foundation.

The two-week, all expenses paid, on-campus experience is geared toward developing leadership skills and interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. SLU's camp, "Aerospace and Avionics," is designed to introduce students to the field of aviation and incorporates each aspect of STEM.

Students live on campus during the camp and participate in classes taught by university faculty, secondary teachers and local STEM professionals. As part of the interactive, inquiry-based curriculum, campers also enjoy the added benefit of exploring local museums, nature centers and ecosystems, allowing them to discover science at work in their communities.

"For two weeks, there are incredible learning opportunities with teachers who make the science come alive as well as a ‘real world' perspective from those working in the field," said William Perkins, program director for SLU's Pre-College and Student Access Programs. "In addition, they have a chance to make new friends with shared interests and get a taste of life on a college campus."

The ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Camp is one of more than 50 camps and academies offered as part of the Summer at SLU program. Visit slu.edu/summer for more information.

About the the Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp

Founded in 1998 by Bernard Harris, Jr., M.D., 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.

The Harris Foundation and the ExxonMobil Foundation have partnered for eight consecutive years to provide math and science camps to underserved students across the country in an effort to close the learning gap and encourage youth to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

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