Ania Ruiz was one of 48 middle school students in 2009 selected to attend the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at The University of Texas-Pan American. For Ruiz, the hands-on and college experiences she received that summer provided a look into her future.
Ruiz, now a freshman at McAllen High School, recalls having no interest in math or science before attending the camp.
"I was never interested in math or science; I thought they were boring...but when we were able to do the hands-on experiments and meet scientists it sparked an interest," said Ruiz. "I now want to go into the field of psychology or something having to do with the environment. The camp opened my eyes to careers and college."
Ruiz said the college experience she received by living in the UTPA dorms for the two-week duration of the camp helped her grow not only as a student, but as a person and leader as well. She had the chance to meet and work with new people who are now close friends today.
"Being away from home definitely made me more independent and taught me how to handle certain situations and take charge of projects," she said. "One of my favorite things was meeting people who were interested in the same things I am and making new friends who I still talk to today."
Ruiz enjoyed the experience so much that she returned to the summer science camp in 2010 as a junior counselor. The experience gave her the opportunity to help the students attending the camp and answer all their questions - the same kind of assistance she received from her camp counselors.
"I recommend attending the camp and being a counselor. It's fun and you learn so much," said Ruiz. "We're really lucky to have this kind of opportunity that opens our eyes to college and different careers that inspire students to go on with their future."
Many more students like Ruiz will have that opportunity this summer when the prestigious Exxon Mobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp is held at UTPA July 17-29. UTPA was one of 25 universities nationwide selected to receive $80,000 to fund the camp and cover students' total camp expenses.
"We are so thankful to have a donor like Exxon Mobil who is willing to do this for us," said Jeanette Broshears, associate dean of students and executive camp director for Exxon Mobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp. "This camp would definitely be cost prohibitive for many of the kids in the Valley."
Students eligible for the camp must be entering sixth, seventh or eighth grade in fall 2011. They need to submit recommendations from their current math or science teachers and a 250-word essay. They also need to have a median to superior level score on all standardized math and science tests within the past year and a B average or better in all math and science classes.
Students selected to attend can look forward to a number of hands-on activities, including building a robotic dog constructed of Legos and rockets and visiting Sea Turtle Inc. and the UTPA Coastal Studies Lab in South Padre Island. They will also have the chance to experience college life. During the camp they will stay in University dorms, eat on campus and enjoy the amenities that UTPA offers such as the Wellness & Recreational Sports Complex.
After completing the two week camp, students have three follow-up meetings with camp advisers throughout the year to continue to expose them to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related fields and careers and other programs the University hosts to promote STEM such as TexPrep.
"We want students to get excited about STEM careers and encourage them to take higher level math and science in high school," said Broshears. "A large population of our students in the Valley will also be first-generation college students and so we want to immerse them in the college setting. We want them to leave here ready to go to college."
This is the third year veteran astronaut Dr. Bernard Harris and the Exxon Mobil Foundation have partnered with UTPA in an initiative to empower Valley students to increase their STEM skills through the camp. Since 2006, more than 5,500 students from across the country have participated in ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camps.
"I hope that more kids are open to this kind of opportunity and more camps like this come to the Valley," said Ruiz. "It's really fun and makes science and math not boring and creates opportunities down here for us."
For more information on the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp, call Broshears at (956) 665-2659.