Students learn science, independence at ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp
Posted: 07/25/2011
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Pamela Lim learned July 22 that paper plates can withstand much more than generous helpings of food. They also can help stop a meteoroid from penetrating a space suit.

Middle school students attending the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at The University of Texas-Pan American test a sample of a "space suit" they made during a competition held July 22, 2011.

Lim, a 13-year-old rising eighth-grade student at IDEA Quest in Edinburg, was among 46 middle school students from public and private schools in Hidalgo and Cameron counties who participated in a space suit challenge event during the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at The University of Texas-Pan American.

Lim and her team, the Asteroids, designed a sample of a space suit using pieces of a paper plate, card stock, wax paper, aluminum foil and duct tape that could withstand an impact from a center punch dropped onto it. Whichever team had the punch penetrate through the least amount of layers won the competition.

"It went through nine layers," Lim said. The suit patches had to have 14 layers made from at least four different materials. "We were surprised. We thought it would only go through four."

Nevertheless, the Asteroids won the competition with 77 points.

Now in its third year at UTPA, the two-week-long ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp allows children to learn more about careers related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through hands-on activities. The camp is part of the University's Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) program, which culminates with a weeklong celebration in the fall each year.

The 46 who participated in this year's camp were selected from a pool of about 200 applicants.

This year, UTPA hosted the camp from July 17-29. On Friday, July 22, the University invited parents and media to campus to see the space suit challenge and hear from U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, TX-15, who was instrumental in starting HESTEC, Kelly Sauve, program administrator for The Harris Foundation, as well as University administrators.

In a videotaped message, Hinojosa welcomed the students and thanked Exxon Mobil Corp. Chairman, President and CEO Rex Tillerson for his support for the camps and UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen for having the University host one of the camps.

Forty-six middle school students from Hidalgo and Cameron counties participated in the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp held at The University of Texas-Pan American July 17-29, 2011. These students were chosen out of about 200 applicants.

The congressman also urged students to pursue their dreams and follow in the footsteps of Dr. Bernard Harris, former NASA astronaut who was the first African American to walk in space and the founder of The Harris Foundation.

"Our nation really needs young people, especially minorities, to study science, math, engineering and medicine," Hinojosa said. "Like Dr. Harris and many other outstanding scientists, you must study hard, plan for college and graduate."

Sauve also stressed the importance of studying STEM-related subjects, saying that nearly all of the jobs that will be available to students when they graduate from college will require a strong foundation in STEM education.

Lim and fellow campers said they have had fun participating in hands-on activities, especially building rockets using soda bottles, tape and water, as well as meeting new friends.

Marco Martinez, an 11-year-old incoming sixth-grade student at Rio Hondo Junior High School, said he enjoyed the challenges he faced while designing and building the rockets.

"It's difficult how we have to make them but in the end the work pays off," Martinez said.

Students attending the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at The University of Texas-Pan American test launch a rocket they made using a soda bottle, tape, cardboard and water.

Martinez and other students tested their rockets on a hot and humid Thursday afternoon outside the Engineering building. The students were making sure their rockets would successfully transport an egg into the air and have it land without breaking for their demonstration during an open house scheduled for the following Sunday.

Martinez said a test launch of the rocket showed they would need to add more protection for when they conduct the actual launch with the egg.

"We forgot to put on protection for the egg," he said. "When it went it landed, I don't think it did well because it didn't have protection. So on Sunday we're going to add protection because we forgot to put it on."

In addition to making new friends, Martinez said he has also enjoyed developing wind turbines and sketches of houses using Google SketchUp 3D modeling program. Parents are also impressed with the camp.

Weslaco resident Griselda Fino, whose son, Kalil Fino, is attending the camp, said their family was ecstatic when they learned Kalil, a rising sixth-grade student at B. Garza Middle School in Weslaco, would be attending. Science and math are her son's favorite subjects, she said.

"I'm really proud of him," Fino said. "He's really focused and engulfed in his studies."

Fino said her son has been telling her about all the projects he has done throughout the camp.

Mission resident Ronnie Guerra, whose son Matthew, a rising eighth-grade student at Sharyland North Junior High School, said he is pleased the University is offering programs like the camp to area students.

"The children learn a lot and at the same time they learn how to take care of themselves," said Guerra, a math teacher at Wernecke Elementary School in the Sharyland Independent School District.

Learn more about the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp.

Anyone interested in contributing to UTPA's youth enrichment programs can contact Velinda Reyes, director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, at (956) 665-5301.