PLYMOUTH – Seven wide-eyed children gather around a lab table in Plymouth State University’s Boyd Science Center, eager to find out what happens when a piece of dry ice is dropped into a container of water.
As Assistant Professor of Microbiology Mike Son gently places the dry ice into the water. the resulting vapor elicits excited laughter from the kids, who range in age from 6 to 8. They’ve just participated in a simple experiment about matter; how water can easily change from a solid, a gas and a liquid.
The class is part of a PSU summer camp called The Science Explorers, introduced this year by PSU as part of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) outreach effort.
Dr. Cynthia Vascak, dean of PSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, said STEM education is a priority for the institution and our summer camps are a tangible way to reach young people with that goal.
“The science camps introduce children to dynamic real world applications of STEM skills and knowledge, inspire wonder and fascination, build confidence and interest, and open pathways of exploration and discovery,” Vascak said. “Building a STEM pipeline with our K-12 schools and providing dynamic K-12 summer training for students helps us achieve our goal of prioritizing STEM education in New Hampshire, a goal the entire USNH system has pledged to achieve.”
Son developed the week-long course with the idea that each day would cover a different aspect of science education: rudimentary experiments involving chemistry, biology and eco-systems to introduce students to thinking critically and helping them gain confidence in their own ability to solve problems.
“Now is the best time to get them aware of science, as early as possible,” Son noted. “STEM is a major influence and focus for me and the University. I wanted to get kids involved with science as quickly as possible to get them interested and build off that momentum.”
Eight-year-old Ben Limric of Madbuy said he’s having a lot of fun at the Science Exploreres Camp.
“Last year when I was in first grade, we did some science experiments and I just fell in love with it; it’s a lot of fun and it’s amazing how it works,” Limric said.
Eight-year-old Trisha Bradbury of Northfield was also enjoying the camp.
“It’s fun to learn new things – what if one day I become a scientist?” Bradbury said.
In addition to the Lab Explorers camp, PSU is offering other youth programs this summer including Junior and Senior Lego Engineering Camps and a Mindstorm Madness Camp.
“It’s important for PSU to take the lead in having these youth programs available,” said Linda Hammond, PSU’s community education coordinator. “Not only does it give the public an inside view of the university, it informs them that we are serious about education at all levels.”