Valley high school and middle school students participate in summer camps at UTPA
Contact: Nicole Boychuk, Writer 381-2741
Posted: 07/05/2006
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By the end of the summer, the Valley Outreach Center (VOC) will have organized 26 camps and seen more than 600 high school and middle school students participate in academic camps, which are held at The University of Texas-Pan American.

"The camps have been fantastic. We have gotten a lot of great feedback from the students and the parents as well," Lisa Prieto, associate director of the Valley Outreach Center, said. "It makes the college dream tangible because they are here at UTPA, on a college campus, and they are able to interact with faculty members and college students."

Seventh graders collect evidence from a mock crime scene during the Clinical Lab Sciences CSI camp, which was part of GEAR UP Females Week June 11-14 at The University of Texas-Pan American. After collecting the evidence, the students tried to solve the crime in the lab using genetic analysis. GEAR UP Females Week is one of many summer camps organized through the collaboration of the Valley Outreach Center and other UTPA projects such as AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and Tech Prep Ready for the Real World.
The VOC houses the Pre-College Academic Programs (PCAP) service at UTPA, which partners with projects such as GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Academic Programs), AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), and Tech Prep Ready for the Real World, to be able to host these summer camps, which are taught by UTPA faculty.

The various projects fund their participants, so the students do not have to pay to attend camp. As part of the college experience, students have the opportunity to stay in the dorms during the camps, which run Sunday through Wednesday.

Because the VOC collaborates with several different partners, the camps are held during four separate weeks, and many of the camps are held more than once in order to accommodate the different programs that wish to offer a camp in the same subject.

Local AVID students got a hands-on experience while learning about internal organs and other medical procedures during the AVID Nursing Camp at UTPA June 4-7. Other camps offered during the same week for AVID students included Robotics, STARS Leadership, Creative Writing, and Engineering.
This summer, students were able to select from 10 different camps ranging from a variety of academic disciplines. Camp offerings include: Clinical Lab Science CSI, Communication Leadership (STARS), Computer Science, Creative Writing, Drama, Engineering, Geographic Information Systems, Nursing, Robotics, and Physics.

Tech Prep Ready for the Real World is set to have camps July 9-12, while AVID students participated in camps June 4-7, and GEAR UP students were separated into Females Week (June 11-14) and Males Week (June 18-21).

One of the camps held during GEAR UP Females Week was the Clinical Lab Sciences CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) camp where students were provided with an overview of both the clinical laboratory science and forensic investigation fields. As part of the camp, students had the chance to try and solve a mock crime scene using evidence collection and genetic analysis.

Tracey Gonzales, a seventh grader from Miller Jordan Middle School in San Benito, gets ready to culture a swab she collected from an outside source. Gonzales and other students who attended the Clinical Lab Sciences CSI Camp did this to see what types of bacteria were found in everyday items. Sources included door handles, staircases, and ashtrays.
"We're looking for the truth as we are in all scientific aspects. The truth is the most important thing, and that's what I want to instill in these girls today," said Mary Ann Escamilla, health education coordinator in the Department of Clinical Lab Sciences at UTPA.

Yazmin Reyna, a seventh-grade student at Lorenzo De Zavala Middle School in La Joya, said she came to camp because she thought it was going to be a good opportunity to pursue a field of interest and find out if that was something she wanted to do with her life.

"The camp helped me learn more about crime scene investigation, and now that I learned about that kind of career, I think that's what I want to pursue in life," Reyna said.

This type of student response bodes well for the camp because according to Prieto the purpose of the camps is to introduce Valley students to college campus life while giving them an opportunity to explore a potential major and eventual career.

Josie Hernandez, a seventh grader from Rio Hondo, said, "You sign up for the class you think is interesting and then you kind of get an idea of, do I want to pursue this or not? Is this for me? Is this what I'm going to want to do for the rest of my life or not?"

Hernandez always thought clinical lab science and forensics would be a hard field to pursue because there is so much to memorize, but after attending the camp she had a change of heart. "It's not that hard if you set your mind to it," she said.

For more information about the VOC or for questions regarding summer camps, call 956/292-7597 or log on to