CORVALLIS, Ore. – What kind of spacecraft would be needed to get humans to Mars, and what kind of module could support a crew of four to travel and live there for 700 days?

Forty-eight Oregon middle school students will use creative teamwork and what they have learned about Earth systems to answer those questions and present the results during the Oregon ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp Aug. 5–16 at Oregon State University.

The students, who are entering grades 6-8, will design modules for two missions to Mars, one with people aboard and one without. Classes they have attended throughout the camp will help them understand the interrelationships of calories for energy, plant production, soils, living things, water and landforms, habitat components and solar energy.

They also will compete in a Raft Rally to test their understanding of buoyancy and density. Groups of four will have 15 minutes to create a raft from two pieces of aluminum foil and four plastic straws that will float on water while holding the largest number of pennies.

As part of the two-week residential camp, students will take a trip to OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport for a hands-on laboratory about marine organisms and their habitats.

Bernard Harris, the first African-American astronaut to walk in space, will visit the camp on Aug. 7. In 1990, he was selected as a NASA astronaut and flew his first mission three years later. He founded the Bernard Harris Foundation in 1998 to develop math/science education and crime prevention programs for America's youth.

The summer science camp is offered at 25 universities across the country. Last year the OSU summer camp was awarded a crystal trophy from the Bernard Harris Foundation for top honors as "Best Science Camp." The full cost of the camp's education program, field trips, food and lodging is covered by an $80,000 grant from the ExxonMobil Foundation and the Bernard Harris Foundation.

"The lessons and activities encourage middle school students to take additional science, engineering and technology (SET) classes in school and through the Oregon 4-H Youth Development program," said Virginia Bourdeau, executive director of the camp.

"SET is an area of emphasis for 4-H in Oregon and across the nation to support a mandate from the United States Department of Agriculture," she explained. "The camp invites participation from middle school students who are from populations traditionally under-represented in science, engineering and technology in higher education and employment.

"By introducing students to a university campus where they have positive experiences with adult mentors, we hope they will be likely to seek education beyond the high school level," Bourdeau said.

OSU received the grant earlier this year to host this summer's camp, which is a group effort of its Extension 4-H Youth Development; College of Education, Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences (SMILE) program; Department of Science and Mathematics Education in the College of Science; and College of Engineering.


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Virginia Bourdeau,