While three weeks exploring science museums may sound like a glorified field trip or summer camp, for 40 students, it was much more.
The three-week summer program, called Students Discover Academy, engaged rising ninth-graders headed to Knightdale High School and East Wake High School interested in STEM subjects– science, technology, engineering and math.
Sponsored by a grant donated to Wake County Public Schools, the first-time program engages students from Zebulon Middle, Wendell Middle and East Wake Middle schools.
“It was fun,” Isaiah Dunn, 14, said. Last Friday, he followed a scientist at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences and learned how to extract DNA from strawberries. Then, he had to field questions from a classroom of peers.
“We worked really closely with N.C. State and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences and the kids were all in on real science, real research happening at the museum right now,” said Laura Albrecht, senior administrator and grant coordinator at Knightdale High. “They worked on eMammals, insects, DNA, bacteria and fungi.”
Dunn, who is headed from East Wake Middle to Knightdale High, said he is interested in becoming an electrical or mechanical engineer in the future.
“I like building and designing things,” he said.
Julia Fontana, 14, wants to become a veterinarian someday. She particularly enjoyed collecting insects and examining them under a microscope during the program.
One of the activities during the Students Discover program was a “Meet Your Mentor” day, where Dunn was able to meet several engineers and that only encouraged him more to pursue that career path.
Throughout the school year, most of these freshmen will be paired with mentors from around the Triangle, with a special focus on eastern Wake County, Albrecht said.
However, the dual-school program has only garnered half the mentors needed for the program to continue this year and is currently seeking more from the eastern Wake community.
“We have about 20 (mentors) and we want 40,” Albrecht said. “You can be in a field that is anything related to science, technology, engineering and math – medical professions, dental, chiropractic, banking, accounting, insurance.”
Although they will follow a curriculum set by the school, the mentor and student will meet one hour a week during the school day, with an emphasis on relationship-building and raising awareness for STEM careers. Albrecht said she hopes students will seek advice from the mentors on educational pathways and an exposure to a tangible career.
Tamah Hughes, the IT administrator for the town of Wendell, has hired East Wake students in the past for internships for her department and will seek another this year.
“I think it’s very important to have a little bit of real world experience for students who are in any field, especially IT, to see if that’s really what they want to do,” she said. “Most computer people are really introverted, and any kind of exposure to a professional environment is good for them.”
Current mentors include representatives from Dewberry Engineers, N.C. State Parks, BRI Worldwide, The Vets Pets and BREAKIRON Animation.
To mentor, contact Albrecht at 919-217-5359 or firstname.lastname@example.org.