High-school students envision their future in STEM at Juntos Chemistry Camp

Campers give thumbs up to the liquid-nitrogen ice cream served up by chemistry graduate student Miles Taylor.

Summer campers come home with many wild tales, but only a select few can boast of a liquid nitrogen ice cream snack. The lucky 22 high-schoolers at OSU’s second annual Juntos Chemistry Overnight Camp, held June 23-24, 2018, not only enjoyed the ice cream and the chemistry behind it, but they were also exposed to a wide range of STEM fields through hands-on lab work.

The campers were all Latino students from across Oregon and came away encouraged to pursue higher education and were able to see their own path to a STEM-related career. They also received a warm introduction to campus life, including several meals at the dining center and an overnight stay in the dorms.

Led by chemist Chong Fang, two of his graduate students, and OSU Open Campus Juntos Coordinator Jose R. Garcia, the innovative camp is supported by the OSU Juntos Program, which empowers Latino families around education and college-readiness for 8-12th graders, and the Chemistry Department. The camp is funded by Fang’s National Science Foundation CAREER grant and OSU PreCollege Programs. This year, the camp attracted students from across Oregon, including Dayton, McMinnville, Madras, Hood River, Newberg, and Philomath.

The camp built upon last year’s successful program, blending hands-on lab work with fun social activities. College of Science Executive Associate Dean Matt Andrews gave campers a welcoming orientation to college life and enticed them with the vast array of STEM careers they could pursue. On the first day, campers received a private tour of the Linus Pauling Science Center (LSPC) with Dr. Fang followed by a campus tour, which included a scavenger hunt for flowers.

After a pizza lunch at LSPC, the students used the flowers they collected in a chromatography lab led by chemistry graduate student Miles Taylor. The colorful lab began with an introduction to basic lab safety techniques (lab coats and safety goggles kindly provided by the Chemistry Integrated Labs, special thanks to Kristi Edwards and Dr. Christine Pastorek) and ended with a broad discussion about environmental, analytical and physical chemistry. Department of Chemistry Head Mike Lerner stopped by to greet the students and offered a few encouraging words.

Camp organizers and chaperones (L to R): Jose Garcia, Miles Taylor, Taylor Krueger, Chong Fang and Guadalupe Ruiz.

Later that afternoon and evening, students enjoyed the liquid nitrogen ice-cream snack break and played Chemistry Jeopardy, a game replete with science demos and lively discussions, during which students were reported to be “very engaged and competitive.” The night wound down with a plethora of activities, such as table tennis, pick-up soccer and basketball and a movie.

On the second day, the students returned to LPSC for another lab experience, where they tested the food dye concentration in various powdered drink mixes (Kool-Aid, Gatorade, Powerade, Lemonade) through analytical and spectroscopic methods.

Before heading home, students discussed how chemistry impacts the current world and our daily lives, provided feedback on the camp and talked about their dreams and future plans. A few students expressed strong interest in attending OSU. They gave high marks to both the liquid nitrogen ice cream experiment, with its instant gratification of “eating what you make,” as well as the action-packed Chemistry Jeopardy on Saturday night.

As organizer Jose Garcia put it, “I think they really enjoyed their time on campus, in the dorms, in the chemistry labs, on the intramural fields, and on campus in general. This served as a great sneak peek at what it may be like to be a college student for them, and a taste for what chemistry is all about.”

Parents almost immediately provided positive feedback after their campers returned home.

“Thank you for welcoming my son,” wrote mother Tanya Perez. “He came home very excited about college and said he enjoyed the camp and had lots of fun.”

Fang hopes that the Juntos Chemistry Camp, with two successful runs in 2017 and 2018, can continue on an annual basis with more students from across the State of Oregon. The camp meets a community-identified, critical need for STEM education and outreach to underserved minorities,

“This overnight outreach event enables us to directly impact the young learners and future workforce with a STEM focus, providing ideas, examples, and opportunities for these bright students to embrace a career that they may not initially consider possible. Throughout the two-day action-packed Camp, we have laughed, worked, refreshed, exercised, dined, discussed, and competed together, and felt more confident and hopeful moving forward and reaching new heights.”

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