In the first part of Thursday's lesson, the students used dissection microscopes to examine bees as they learned about their anatomy and biology.
The second part seemed like it involved a completely different field: In it, students learned about programming basics.
But this particular camp for high school students at Oregon State University was focused on DNA and bioinformatics, a field that specializes in using data tools to aid scientists, so the skill was actually an intrinsic part of the field. The camp, which ends today, is one of 30 summer camps put on by OSU’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Academy, part of the university's precollege program.
Cathy Law, the head of the STEM Academy, said the camps, which are mostly day camps, served more than 500 students last summer and attract students from across the state. They even attract a handful of students from outside the country.
She said the purpose of the camps is not just to highlight STEM fields and OSU, but also to offer general encouragement to students to pursue education beyond high school, even if that is community college.
The program gave out $11,000 in scholarships last year for the camps, Law said.
Pankaj Jaiswal, an associate professor in the department of plant pathology who organized the DNA and bioinformatics camp, said that students in the camp got to do hands-on science activities that many graduate students in the field haven’t done.
Jaiswal said he’s organized the camp since the summer of 2013 as a way to engage students in science early and potentially bring them into the field. It also helps him meet outreach requirements in his National Science Foundation grants.
In addition to the bee activity, students tackled bacterial genome sequencing, stained and visualized skin tumor samples they also processed, and cultured malignant cancer cells and did cancer cell imaging, analysis and phenotyping.
Jaiswal said the common theme through the lessons: they're all connected to DNA, the genome and genetics.
He said organizers structure the camp to emphasize hands-on activities rather than just listening to lectures. Doing activities by hand, he said, "is a different experience at it helps in retaining the knowledge."
Kirah Lucier, a White City resident who will start her sophomore year at Eagle Point High School this fall, said she decided to do the camp because she likes science.
“Science is one of the few things I’ve had in school that really spikes my interest,” she said. And the hands-on activities are central to that.
“For me, a hands-on experience helps me learn better,” she said. “With hands-on activities you get experience and you get to have fun.”