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April 18, 2013

Encouraging a Budding Generation of Scientists

While most kids this summer will be taking advantage of their much-anticipated school break, and playing lots of baseball and spending time soaking in cool swimming pools, some lucky kids are getting an opportunity to also learn more about science. Science? During the Summer?? Yes, and it is even going to be fun.


Tavian Crawford is this year's winner of EmpiriStat's scholarship to Summer Science Splash Camp, a week-long residential summer camp on the intimate campus of Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. At camp, the students get to spend their days performing laboratory experiments in the lab and outdoors on the same high-tech equipment that college students and research scientists use. But the camp is not ALL about learning, as the kids get to spend some free time enjoying water activities, tennis, swimming, and other splashing competitions. At night, they get to play games and sports, along with watching movies and making new friends. 

Tavian, age 12, is an ambitious 6th grader who ranks Mathematics as his favorite subject, with Science being a close second. Students like Tavian are good news for the United States, which, for some time, has placed poorly in science and math educational rankings with other countries. 
Fretting among educators about how American schools rank internationally is nothing new and according to two recent reports, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, this trend continues. The United States ranked 11th in fourth-grade math, 9th in eighth-grade math, 7th in fourth-grade science, and 10th in eighth-grade science.  Hoping that getting and keeping young students interested in the sciences is key to turning around the U.S.'s poor rankings is what motivates activities such as Juniata College's Summer Science Splash Camp.
When asked what he likes most about science, Tavian explained "because there is math involved and you get to do a lot of experiments." He is excited about the opportunity to learn more about science than what is available at school. Upon learning of the scholarship, Tavian was a bit trepid as most 12-year-olds would be, saying "At first I did not know if I wanted to go because it IS summer, but then I got excited because it would be a good opportunity." 
Tavian's mom, Stacey, is excited about this opportunity, so that her son can "have exposure to more sophisticated procedures and equipment than he normally has access to in school on a daily basis."  She explained that a STEM program (programs that encourage students in the fields of science technology, engineering, and mathematics) was available when Tavian had started middle school, but being so new, the program offered limited exposure and lacked a variety of tools and activities. Plus, there was a long waiting list.
The host of the camp, Science in Motion (SIM), is an organization well-known for supporting middle and high schools by providing:
·         mobile educators (traveling teachers) to the schools with multiple sets of equipment and supplies needed to give every student a hands-on experience;
·         equipment and materials to teachers independent of the mobile educators to allow greater access to advanced laboratory equipment and resources;
·         professional development opportunities for teachers to keep high-school/middle courses up to date with the latest discoveries in science.
SIM was founded at Juniata College in 1987, and has since expanded to 11 other colleges and universities in Pennsylvania, while serving over 200 school districts.
Funding for the camp and other SIM activities comes from the II-IV Foundation, whose mission is "To encourage and enable students to pursue a career in engineering, science and mathematics while maintaining a standard of excellence in that pursuit."
The II-VI Foundation Early Education Programs are designed to target students in the 5th through 10th grades. It is during these years that many favorable impressions are made and career alternatives come into consideration. To make a coherent and intriguing case for the sciences, mathematics and engineering careers would mean that our nation will be more likely to produce a larger number of students pursuing these disciplines.
While this will not be his first trip away from home, Tavian said, "I will still miss mom because I love her a lot."

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