Youngsters Escape the Heat for Cool Science at UH

Dozens of bright but underprivileged middle-school students enjoyed a two-week, fun-filled summer math and science camp at the University of Houston. 

The annual ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp wrapped-up last week. This year the camp was run by teachHouston, a program within the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics that prepares NSM majors for teaching careers. 

More than 50 Houston-area junior high campers lived in a UH dormitory and participated in classroom study, lab experiments, team projects and field trips to NASA and the Museum of Natural Science. The camp aims to enhance students’ skills in math, science, engineering and technology while improving their critical thinking ability and self-confidence.

The camp was started by Bernard Harris, a UH biology alum and former astronaut who was the first African-American to walk in space. The camp, which is funded by the ExxonMobil Foundation and the Harris Foundation, targets underprivileged but promising youngsters. The students were chosen from among some 400 applicants based on grades and teacher recommendations. 

Concerned that bright kids from tough neighborhoods were not getting the support they needed, Harris started the camp more than a decade ago to give them a taste of college life and the chance to work with other bright, motivated youth interested in math and science. 

“Not only are we providing these students with two exciting weeks on our campus and offering them the unique opportunity to experience a college campus for the first time, we are investing in our community by encouraging the next generation of innovative problem solvers,” said Paige Evans, one of the camp directors and a clinical associate professor in the teachHouston program. 

TeachHouston, an innovative new project at UH that seeks to address the widespread shortage of qualified math and science teachers, was a good fit to run the Harris camp, Evans added, and several teachHouston students served as camp counselors. 

“It’s a phenomenal experience for them, to spend all day with these kids and be able to mentor them on a personal level,” Evans said.