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LU hosts ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp

Lamar University will host The ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp June 10-22. The free, two-week residential camp is designed for underserved incoming sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students who excel in mathematics and science. Forty-eight students are participating in this year’s camp.

Founded by veteran astronaut Bernard Harris Jr., the program immerses students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) based curriculum in an effort to reinforce critical thinking skills, encourage innovation and reduce summer learning loss.

Harris will visit the Lamar University campus June 15 for camp media day held from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Dishman Art Museum. Harris will discuss his experience at NASA as the first African American to walk in space, as well as the extreme conditions he encountered during his two shuttle missions.

“The program delivers engaging instruction and mentorship to underserved youth at 20 camps across the country,” Harris said. “Through this opportunity, students have access to highly qualified educators and professionals who work to develop students’ leadership and problem solving skills, which are critical components of success.”

Research from John Hopkins University shows that without summer learning programs, students can lose as much as two-months of grade level equivalent mathematics skills. The study also showed a marked decline in learning skills over the summer months in low-income and underrepresented youth due to a lack of access to summer learning programs. Programs like the Bernard Harris Summer Camp are becoming critical in developing STEM skills in students and helping them retain learned material over the summer months.  The all-expenses-paid program helps present opportunities to underserved students who might not otherwise participate in summer learning programs. With guidance from field professionals and instructors, students will engage in hands-on activities such as designing rockets, spacesuits and bridges to further develop students’ interest and skills in the STEM fields.

The program includes a “Space Day Challenge” where students will design durable spacesuit swatches using household items that mimic materials used by NASA that are capable of withstanding high-impact micro-meteors and the extreme temperatures present in space. Teams will test the strength of their design using an “impact tester” that imitates the rigors experienced during spacewalks.

“ExxonMobil is committed to encouraging interest in science and math,” said Suzanne McCarron, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation. “These camps are one way to equip our nation’s youth with skills needed to be competitive in an increasingly global economy.”

Area instructors will show campers science and math at work in the world through workshops, field excursions to local ecosystems and trips to area museums.

Becky Broussard, Camp Program Director, said “the Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp has a venue of collaborative partners who provide a linkage to field excursions to complement the camp's theme ‘Live in Harmony with Nature’.” 

Partners include Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center located in Orange, The Big Thicket National Preserve located in Kountze and The Texas A&M AgriLIFE Research Center at Beaumont/Eagle Lake. Each of the collaborating partners offers students an opportunity to engage in real-world, hands-on activities that develop one’s awareness about various aspects of nature, wildlife, the environment and agriculture.

The program at Lamar University is one of 20 Bernard Harris Summer Camps in the nation, and has been hosted for six years on Lamar’s campus.