Rachel Donohoe kicks back in Glacier Bay National Park. Her trip was part of a camp organized by the SpringBoard program of the Juneau Economic Development Council. Two of Donohoe's favorite parts of the camp were "meeting new people from all over the United States and watching their amazement with Southeast Alaska and the very unique traditions we have here" and "seeing calving glaciers and realizing how vast they are."
Story last updated at 5/6/2009 - 10:46 am
JUNEAU - "It took me almost two days to realize the magnitude of the glacier," writes Rachel Donohoe of her experience in Glacier Bay last summer. "It finally hit me when a seemingly small passenger vessel pulled up alongside one of the glaciers and then I noticed it was one of those 12-story cruise ships."
Donohoe and her companions were in Glacier Bay not just to see the national park, but to learn the science behind the phenomena they observed, as participants in a University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Summer Research Academy (ASRA) camp, organized through the SpringBoard program of the Juneau Economic Development Council (JEDC).
Donohoe and her group watched glaciers calve, tracked animals, measured the salinity and temperature of water near the glacial face and learned about intertidal zones.
"It's interesting because Glacier Bay is not very far from Juneau but she'd never been there," said Donohoe's mother, Kathy Hamblett. "What was really special was not just going over there and casually looking around but going around there with a purpose and being involved."
This summer, local students will once again have the opportunity to participate in a variety of summer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) camps organized through the JEDC and subsidized largely through a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.
DDR (Discover Design Research) camps offered at the University of Alaska Southeast will offer students entering grades 10-12 opportunities to study glacier dynamics in Glacier Bay or marine science and fisheries at Little Port Walter. High schoolers can also participate in a Pigipen ProjectFUN workshop in which they will learn video game programming and 3-D animation.
For middle school students, there's the H20 Power Camp, in which they can tour the Snettisham Power Plant and raft the Mendenhall river. At the NOAA Marine Science Camp, middle schoolers visit the NOAA Auke Bay lab and study the marine environment in and around Juneau using student-built ROVs.
"We want to do things that are adventurous," said SpringBoard Education Coordinator Mary Hakala. "There are so many adults who walk in and say, 'Gosh, I want to do this.' We were looking at where are those unique places that are really wonderful. Southeast has a lot to offer."
Both the Department of Defense and the JEDC hope these camps will inspire more young people to become the next generation of innovation scientists and engineers
"STEM programs respond to a national need to keep our nation competitive," said Brian Holst, executive director of the JEDC. "Innovation drives half of the growth of a developed country such as ours. When we think of economic development, we think about how we keep our (nation) competitive and how to keep Alaska competitive."
One camp, the UAF ASRA trip to study marine mammals at Round Island, is full, but spaces are available at all other camps.
Donohoe's younger sister Sarah is participating in the UAF ASRA trip this year, in which students will travel to Round Island Walrus Islands Game Sanctuary in Bristol Bay.
"She wanted to go after hearing about Rachel's experience," said the girl's mother, Kathy Hamblett.
And she wasn't the only one. Five of the nine participants chosen for the camp (out of 28 applicants) are from Juneau.
"The word probably spread that it was a really good deal," Hamblett said. "All thanks to Mary Hacala and her work, putting this whole thing together and making these things available to Juneau students"
Less kids have all the fun, the are programs offered for teachers as well as anyone interested in coaching or mentoring a FIRST LEGO League team. All adult programs are free.
To make the student programs sustainable, there must be fees for the camp, Hakala said, but even the more expensive programs are heavily subsidized by the Dept. of Defense. And scholarships are available for every camp.
Middle school teachers will participate in the middle school camps, helping to connect the expertise of the scientists with age-appropriate lessons for participants.
"We want kids to be intrigued by science and the world around them," Hakala said.
What's more, the kids will not just be observing but creating, said SpringBoard STEM Education Specialist Rebecca Parks.
"Every single one of these camps, the kids are building and creating things of their own," she said.
There's not a good way to assess what effect programs like the STEM camps have on the career choices of participants, Holst said, but in terms of feedback from the participants, so far they appear to be a success.
"We can anecdotally see that kids are more excited about science and technology," Holst said.
Rachel Donohoe says she wants to study science or "something with a heavy emphasis on science" in college.
"I like the scientific process of describing and discovering ways to learn more about and explain the natural world," she says.