August 1, 2005
Summer camp introduces teenagers to science
BY Tia mccollors
Eager area high school students with a love and curiosity for science who spent part of their summer vacation at the School of Medicine’s Summer Science Discovery Camp and Academy programs not only gained a strong foundation in science—they learned valuable life lessons as well.
This year, by the closing sessions in July, they were armed with enough knowledge to create their own play for a murder-mystery dinner theater, using topics they learned about over the course of the science programs.
Sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Medical Student Affairs, the camp was birthed in 1995 from humble beginnings by Robert Lee, associate dean for multicultural medical student affairs, to demonstrate the principle that “high expectations often produce high achievement.” With eight students (two of them his own sons), four parents, $600 from his own pocket and lunches provided by volunteer parents, Lee was determined to see if the Atlanta metro area would embrace and support a summer science camp experience.
“They were a curious lot,” Lee said. “Mostly African American males, some girls, two Asian students, but no Caucasians at the time. We took them to Lullwater Park, Zoo Atlanta, an in-town nature preserve and various other places, looking for science in everyday life.”
Now with a capacity of 15 campers per session, the camp has three two-week sessions per summer for eighth through 10th graders. In 2000, it expanded to include an academy program for 11th and 12th graders held in two three-week sessions. More than 800 students have been enrolled in both programs since their inception, representing families across the racial, economic, educational and metro Atlanta geographical spectra, although reaching African American and Hispanic students long has been
a central goal.
This summer, campers delved into a number of topics taught by their counselors, who are college undergraduate students, medical students and other program alumni. This year’s topics included the science of the skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular and reproductive systems, sexually transmitted diseases, infectious diseases, bacteria, neuroscience, immunology, bioterrorism and food science. They also reviewed diseases that disproportionately affect minorities, such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and HIV/AIDS.
Anitra Sumbry, one of the lead counselors, is a rising senior in Emory College. After graduating with a degree in biology and political science, she plans to attend medical school to obtain a combined MD/MPH degree so she can pursue a career in emergency medicine.
“When I heard of this program, I knew it was something I’d be interested in,” she said. “I’ve worked in summer camps before but never one that was just focused on science. I attended a camp like this when I was younger, and it introduced me to the field. I loved the idea of giving that same opportunity to another student.”
Counselor and second-year Emory medical student Adaeze Adigweme has always enjoyed teaching and mentoring kids, especially in math and science.
“I think it’s important that we get kids really excited about this field early so they can be inspired to pursue careers that often are perceived by young people as being too difficult,” said Adigweme, who aspires to an internal medicine specialty. “When they leave the camp, I want them to have a large bank of knowledge in the sciences that most people don’t learn until college or medical school.”
Other counselors include second-year medical students Elizabeth Gooding and Matt Wallace; Andy Kedir, a 2005 neuroscience graduate of Emory College; and Gregory Malik Burnett, a past academy alumnus who is a rising junior at Duke University.
Some of the premises that Lee used to establish the program remain the same. “It’s our hope that students better understand that science is all around us and that people of color and females can learn and enjoy science,” he said. “Equally important is for students to realize that academic achievement knows no racial, color, ethnic or gender boundaries, and it’s OK to be smart.”
To better prepare the students for college, there are college admissions sessions conducted by the Emory College admissions office. Lee also noted that the Office of Multicultural Medical Student Affairs is beginning to institute a tracking system to determine the educational pathways alumni have taken.