By Kyla SmithAugust 24, 2009
Think back to your school days ... chances are, there were times you enjoyed school, and times when you couldn't wait for summer.
School days meant class work, homework and tests. Summer break meant fun!
For a bunch of lucky kids in the Frederick area, a program run by Fort Detrick's education outreach office and funded by USAMRMC get the best of both worlds. And get paid to participate ...
"We ALWAYS get a few who are in it for the money," said Carrie Michaels, YES Program coordinator. "The students get $50 for a week in the program, cash. And there are always a few who are here for the fifty bucks. But our intent is to get them past that, to teach them a little science, to show them that there's a bigger world, and to get them excited about learning."
And, Micheals added, inevitably many of the "give me the money" kids wind up having to be reminded about the stipend.
"So many of the ones who came in for the cash," said Michaels, "go through he program, wind up having more fun than they imagined and doing, really, very well. And often we have to remind them at graduation that they're supposed to get the stipend."
Cash for a week's worth of science isn't a bad deal, said several of the students, but almost all agreed that it was really about the experience.
The mostly middle school aged students get hands-on experience with scientific principles, experiments and critical thinking, coached and assisted by near-peer mentors, many of whom have been through the program themselves.
"We try to start them off slowly," said Ian McRae, a near-peer who is attending the University of Dublin in Ireland, majoring in medicinal chemistry. "But by the end of each session, we have them doing some pretty complex things."
Experiments range from exploring chemical reactions that make things hot to producing methane bubbles to building towers from macaroni and marshmallows.
"This program was awesome!" said student Ana Matan. Her enthusiasm wasn't an aberration in the groups. Most of the kids echoed Matan's sentiments and several said that it was better than school because they get to do more experiments, and have more fun.
"I never really thought much about it before, but now, science is going to be my favorite subject," said student Mahuum Malik.
The course material includes a broad range of scientific principles and engineering practices. Among other experiments they get to try is making things glow ...
"We actually played with e-coli," said Malik, "and we made it glow, using jellyfish DNA."
This is the fourth year for the YES program, and many of this year's students are already planning for next year, and some are thinking of becoming near-peers.
In addition to the broad-based YES curriculum of previous years, this year, the YES Program added a class that allowed participants to experiment with robots.
"I've never done robotics before," said student Jasmine Brady. "It's something you have to grab really quickly. "
The robotics class got to build, program and test small robots, tasking them with moving things, clearing or navigating obstacles and maneuvering through mazes.
"We have been using light sensors and putting a shovel in front of the robot to move marshmallows out of a circle on the floor" said robotics student Derrick Merwin. "Earlier in the week we used touch sensors to help navigate a maze with our robots."
Near-peers made the students think outside the box.
"It's obvious, when you build something that moves around, to make it go fast," said Michaels. "The near-peers made the students build robots that moved slowly, and the task was to build the slowest robot possible."
One week of experimentation and exploration, and a little cash, made a huge difference for some, and validated an interest in science for others.
"The earlier we can reach students and get them excited about science, the better it will be for them - and for all of us - in the future" said Michaels.