University of Idaho summer camp for the science types

By MARY STONE of the Tribune | Posted: Monday, July 13, 2015 12:00 am

Instead of gathering around a campfire and sleeping in tents, these campers gather around computer screens and stay in college dorms.

Their six-week “summer camp” is part of STEM Access Upward Bound, a year-round program funded by the U.S. Department of Education for math- and science-oriented high school students, many of whom will be the first in their families to attend college.

Offered through the University of Idaho since 1991, the program has served more than 70 Lewiston, Clarkston and Asotin students a year since expanding to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley in 2007, said director Kirsten LaPaglia.

To launch the summer session, the kids ask science, technology, engineering or math questions, then conduct hands-on research in pursuit of answers.

Could a solar-powered backpack be used to charge laptop computers and phones? Can a drone be used to measure air quality in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley?

Other kinds of questions are answered along the way, LaPaglia said, as students who might never have seen what a career in science or engineering could look like begin to understand what their futures may hold.

“What we find is that a lot of our students – which is the intent of the program – they typically don’t have a lot of people around them with careers with college degrees,” LaPaglia said. “We provide them the ability to fully experience what it means to live a life with a STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) career.”

After meeting daily on the Lewis-Clark State College campus for the first two weeks of the summer program, the students stayed in residence halls at the UI last week and embark this week for San Francisco. The last two weeks will be spent at the UI Field Campus in McCall.

Donnie Riley, 16, said he was attracted to the program last summer by the prospect of earning free college credit. The soon-to-be Clarkston High School junior has been part of STEM Access ever since.

“It was like the best thing that had ever happened to me,” Riley said.

This summer, he worked with Kolbie Anderson, 17, and Triston Mendenhall, 16, to explore the possibility of measuring air quality with drones, building a prototype from a kit ordered online.

Mendenhall, who will be a junior at Lewiston High School this year, focused on air pollution for the project, experimenting with an air quality sensor that displays humidity and particulate matter readings through an app on his phone.

Anderson, entering his senior year at Asotin High School, said the STEM Access program is an immersion in science, technology, engineering and math culture. After experiencing engineering expos, robotics tournaments and college tours, he intends to study at LCSC for two years, then transfer to UI to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.

Riley hopes to work through pre-med courses at Walla Walla Community College, then attend medical school at the University of Washington. Mendenhall plans to attend UI.

Though the curriculum is rigorous enough for students to earn college credit, not every activity is academic. A favorite outing was rock climbing at the UI Recreation Center – and this week promises its own adventures.

“We might be taking a tour of Alcatraz when we go to San Francisco,” Mendenhall said.

High school students can apply for the program starting in early August. Those interested in more information can contact LaPaglia at (208) 885-5819 or visit the STEM Access website at http://www.uidaho.edu/stemaccess.

Stone may be contacted at mstone@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2244. Follow her on Twitter @MarysSchoolNews.