Astronaut Bernard Harris fulfilled his childhood dream when he walked in space in 1995, becoming the first African American to accomplish such a feat. This summer, he is giving minority children the chance to dream big as he launches the Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp, nationwide.
One of the camp sites landed on the campus of the University of Southern California, where nearly 50 local middle-schoolers will experience life on a college campus and stay in residence halls on weeknights, from July 8 to July 20.
“This is more than a summer camp,” said Kim Thomas-Barrios, executive director of the camp that is free to the students. “This is driven by one man’s desire to create a pathway to math and science professions.”
Harris founded the Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp in response to the low numbers of minorities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math—where African Americans make up 6.2 percent of people in those careers, according to the Commission on Professions in Science and Technology, and Latinos account for only three percent of U.S. scientists and engineers, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
What initially began as a camp in two cities in his home state of Texas has now expanded to 20 sites, including USC, with the support of ExxonMobil.
“Preserving our nation as the world leader in these fields requires an investment in our youth today,” Harris said.
Malchus Cooper, Zack Ferrin and Gregorio Pineda are just three local students of whom Harris speaks. Cooper, who is a seventh grade student at 32nd Street Elementary School, has had a blast so far in his first week of camp.
He explained, “So far I’ve learned how to make electromagnets with wire and a battery, and I’ve learned how to make things out of bottles and little electric motors. I’ve also learned about aerodynamics, and how to program a robot to do certain things and pick up stuff, to change different directions and have sound sense and sight sense to the point where it can see the object that it’s supposed to pick up.”
“We also learned about kinetic energy and potential energy,” added groupmate Ferrin, who says he likes the camp because of all the fun experiments they are able to do. “Science is my favorite subject in school,” continued Ferrin, a sixth-grade student at John Adams Elementary School.
Both Cooper and Ferrin, along with their third group member Pineda, are in the process of building a Lego robot, which will compete against other robots built by their fellow campers.
Explained Thomas-Barrios, “They first have to put together the robot of their choice, then they are going to program the robots to do certain things, which include rolling across the moon (a simulated version) and picking up moon rocks (little blue balls).
“They are going to have a competition at the end where they will earn ‘bragging rights.’”
She continued, “Here at the university we are very focused on providing for neighborhood students and our neighborhood families that pathway to not just this university but any university. We concentrate on lowering barriers of learning, and in the public school system not all kids get all the math and sciences that they really need to choose a career or even think about choosing a career or a pathway to college in math and science.
“We show them through this program...just how fun and exciting a career in engineering, math or science can be, so they won’t discard it as just some hard subject. Those are the subjects they can get through in order to have a career. We feel like we’re meeting the needs of the neighborhoods as well as fitting the goals of the university by having this program on campus.”
Harris will have the opportunity to see first-hand just who his program is benefiting when he makes a visit to the USC camp site on July 20 to talk with the campers about their futures before they compete in a raft-building competition using tin foil, pennies and lots of water.