By Melissa Harnois, University of Arizona
Each summer, the University of Arizona Biochemistry Club hosts BlastOff!, a week long summer camp which is offered free of charge to middle school students from low-income areas of Tucson. This camp focuses on engaging middle school students in various activities aimed at fostering and enriching their interest in science. During the summer of 2015, the UA Biochemistry Club hosted fifteen middle school students in its fourth camp. Students were provided the opportunity to experience the thrill of scientific exploration through field trips, data analysis techniques, and even the chance to conduct some of their own experiments with the guidance of Biochemistry Club officers and members who volunteered as camp counselors. Each day of the camp represented a different branch of science.
Ecology Day commenced with an exciting scavenger hunt at the University of Arizona turtle pond. Campers worked together to record observations about the ecosystem of the pond and collected water samples. Back in the lab, they learned how to prepare glass slides and how to use microscopes to examine the water samples. The campers again worked together to record observations about the contents of their water samples and even discovered the presence of various microorganisms. The week continued with Physics Day, during which campers created and tested their own bottle rockets and worked in teams to create a protective contraption that would keep an egg from breaking after being dropped from five stories high. The campers’ innovative and competitive spirit made these activities especially fun!
Wednesday was Chemistry Day and the campers were thrilled to experience the UA Chemistry Club’s Magic Show. Their show included some very loud explosions from balloons filled with different types of gas, colored fire created using various metals, and demonstrations using acid-base indicators. Campers also learned about catalysis and different types of chemical reactions by creating their own ice cream in a bag. Biology day came next and included a thrilling zombie-themed activity! The campers performed their very own ELISA Assay in order to discover which counselors had the “zombie gene.” To end the week, we invited multiple professionals who are currently working in different areas of science to serve on a Science Career Discovery panel. The campers were able to learn from these professionals and ask questions about what it is like to pursue higher education and what science career paths are available.
Throughout the camp, all campers maintained a personal journal to reflect upon each day’s activities. At the end of every day, campers split up into small groups to work on posters which served as a way for them to document the discoveries they made throughout the week. On the last day of camp, parents and other family members were invited for lunch and an informal poster viewing session so they could see what the campers accomplished and learned. STEM outreach from University students played a vital role in sparking an interest in science among younger generations, which is why the UA Biochemistry Club takes such pride in planning and hosting this event each year!
For other groups who are looking to increase outreach in their community through an event similar to BlastOff!, the first and most important thing to know that it is no small task, but every bit of effort is well worth it in the end. In addition, events like BlastOff! are nearly impossible to plan alone, so it is very important for everyone involved to maintain active communication, organization, and flexibility every step of the way. With those tips in mind, the best way to begin would be to contact local schools. Explain your goals and ask for input by sending emails to principals or vice principals, science teachers, or even pay a visit to your past teachers if you are originally from the area. The UA Biochemistry Club has found all of these methods to be very effective in making connections between our club and the middle and high schools in Tucson. This is an event all of our members look forward to each year and we would be happy to answer any questions to help other groups who are looking to plan similar events.
The Biochemistry Club greatly appreciates all of the contributions from our sponsors for helping make BlastOff! a success. A special thanks to our 2015 sponsors: Pizza Studio, Chick-fil-A, Jimmy Johns, and Silver Mine Subs.
For questions on how to organize a similar event, please contact the UA Biochemistry club (firstname.lastname@example.org).