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Gear Up students obtain hands-on learning at PCAP Camp
Contact: Lori Ann Prado, Intern 292-7311
Posted: 06/20/2008
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The University of Texas-Pan American Gear Up, Region One Education Service Center's Gear Up and the Valley Outreach Center have collaborated this summer on the fourth annual Pre-College Academic Program Camp (PCAP) for middle school and high school Gear Up students ranging in ages 14-18.

Pictured is PCAP camper Ruben Cruz constructing a robot during the robotics class held during the camp.
One hundred and fifty Rio Grande Valley students were able to choose from six subjects to study including robotics, nursing, clinical lab science, geographic information systems, engineering and computer science.

The four-day camp originated in summer 2005 with a goal of giving students a "full college experience," to encourage them to pursue higher education after high school.

Students are housed in dorms during the program and are monitored by resident assistants, program coordinators and UTPA instructors.

"It's important because it gives them a chance to see what it's like living on a college campus, staying in a dorm, and participating in higher-level events," said David Kirtley, UTPA software system specialist and a PCAP instructor.

Kirtley oversaw the robotics session of the camp, where students built robotic bugs from scratch that were able to move around according to the amount of light striking the object. He said the course challenged the students to identify the right parts to situate everything collectively, and learning how to solder. If something did not work, he explained, the student and instructor worked together to fix the problem, making it a "self-rewarding" learning process.

Cely Joe Aguilar, a 15-year-old from Brownsville Lopez High School said she liked the robotics session, because it taught her how "little things" can make a big difference. Aguilar chose to attend the camp after being informed about it by her high school Gear Up counselor.

"I came last year and I had fun, so I wanted to come again," Aguilar said.

She said that she would rather spend part of her summer away from home and boredom, and the experience definitely made her want to pursue college after graduating high school. Like Aguilar, Shannon Leigh Cerda of La Joya High School also said that the experience was well worth her time.

"I get to do stuff with my hands; I like hands-on activities. It's pretty cool; I get to experience new things," Cerda said.

According to Petra L. Lopez-Vaquera, director of special programs at the Valley Outreach Center, their staff strives to continue the success of PCAP camps and hopes to improve it each year.

"In the future we may run camps throughout the whole summer and recruit participants from various programs. Another idea would be to partner with more UTPA departments to offer more fields of study for the students," Vaquera said. For more information regarding PCAP camps, contact the Valley Outreach Center at 956/292-7596 or visit their Web site at www.utpa.edu/voc