Beakers and bunks! Eighteen high school students enjoyed the first ever overnight chemistry camp on campus from June 24-25, thanks to both the OSU Juntos Program, which empowers Latino families around education and college-readiness for 8-12th graders, and the Chemistry Department at the College of Science.
Funded by a grant from The University Division of Outreach and Engagement and led by chemist Chong Fang and OSU Open Campus Juntos Coordinator Jose R. Garcia, the camp drew students across a wide geographical region in Oregon, including Corvallis, Philomath, Madras and Boardman. The goal of the project was to immerse Latino students interested in STEM fields in hands-on lab work and expose them to a taste of campus life, encouraging them to invest in higher education and envision their own path to a STEM-related career.
The inaugural camp had a community health theme. Led by chemistry graduate students Breland Oscar and Taylor Krueger, both from the Fang Lab, students learned how scientists (and particularly chemists) solve and test for everyday health problems related to both drinking water and food additives. Working at the Linus Pauling Science Center (LPSC) general chemistry lab, students collected their own water samples (from water fountains on campus to purified water at local grocery stores) and analyzed the concentration of the calcium ion (in the form of the calcium carbonate mineral, CaCO3). Collecting and processing the data in an Excel spreadsheet, students learned how water can be contaminated, tested, and cleaned for safe human consumption. On the second day, the students tested the food dye concentration in various powdered drink mixes (Kool-Aid, Gatorade, Powerade, Lemonade) through analytical and spectroscopic methods.
The fun continued outside the lab with a campus scavenger hunt, a warm welcome by Sastry G. Pantula, Dean of the College of Science, a liquid nitrogen ice cream snack break and an ultrafast laser lab tour and discussion at the LPSC. Students played soccer and basketball on the field outside Hawley Hall, the dorm where they stayed overnight, and on Saturday night chose between watching a movie at the Hawley lounge or enjoying the fireworks after the OSU Baseball match.
At the end of the weekend, students engaged in a broad discussion about how chemistry impacts community health and daily life, provided feedback on the event and talked about their dreams and future plans. They rated highly the liquid nitrogen ice cream experiment, with its instant gratification of “eating what you make,” as well as some of the group-bonding activities. Overall, they showed a great interest and engagement throughout the two-day camp, and the faculty and chaperones learned a lot from the camp and the interactions with Juntos students.
Chemist and coordinator Chong Fang hopes that the camp, which meets a community-identified critical need for STEM education and outreach to underserved minorities, can continue on an annual basis:
“I enjoyed working with the passionate faculty, staff, and graduate students at OSU to open our arms and show the magic of chemistry to Juntos high school students across the State of Oregon. Planting a seed in their curious minds with facts-based science, analytical methods, and mechanistic understanding goes a long way in shaping their future endeavors and achievements in science and engineering fields.”