Among the vast variety of summer fun University of Texas Permian Basin is hosting this summer is a reimagined biology camp.
Athenia Oldham is associate professor and chair of biology and Paula Gutierrez is a biology lecturer. Oldham is the camp manager and Gutierrez is a camp instructor. It runs from June 26-29 in the Science and Technology Building on campus.
Gutierrez said the camp was previously biomedical engineering and geared more toward high school level students in particular. This year, it is open to all 13- to 17-year-olds. Under certain circumstances, 18-year-olds can apply.
They also included larger-scale experiments rather than just focusing on microbiology.
“We’re also going to look at human anatomy, and we have a unit on ecology, but still looking at the really core small-scale things like microbiology and forensics,” Gutierrez said.
Oldham said something they are going to try which is normally a lab done in their genetics lab and is a senior-level course will involve the students isolating their own DNA, just from cheek swabs from their mouths “doing what we refer to as a DNA fingerprint.”
“We will set up the PCR reactions for them because it lasts about two to three hours. They won’t be able to look at the data until the following day. If it all works out well, we’ll see differences in the banding patterns between the students. It’s not indicative of anything. It’s just there are certain polymorphisms that we can target that will be different between people. We’re going to try that with these kids. Hopefully it all works out,” Oldham said.
Gutierrez said starting an experiment and looking at the results the next day will be a theme throughout camp. Students also will rotate tasks so they get the full experience.
“We’ll be starting different projects each day and then following up on them as the week progresses,” she added.
Campers will also conduct animal dissections and there will be choices.
They will use the general biology teaching labs, so the students will use the same labs and equipment as college students.
“It’ll be really impactful,” Gutierrez said.
She added that she hopes it will encourage more students to go into biology.
“We see that a lot with the general biology students. They’re forced to take a science class and if there’s a biology spot available they’ll take it. Once they’re in the lab and they do a lot of hands-on type experiments, they realize that biology is a wider scope than what they originally thought. And so we do get a few students that change their majors and I feel like now maybe we’re brainwashing them early, showing them the benefits of biology and how wide the discipline really encompasses,” Gutierrez said.
Since they are teaching younger students than they are accustomed to, Oldham said it may inform how they instruct their freshman level biology courses.
Gutierrez said they have embedded breaks for the the campers about halfway through the 9 a.m. to noon camp. They also tried not to make the camp too long because “kids have a short attention span.”
Oldham has not assisted with the UTPB camps before, but Gutierrez helped with the engineering camp, which will take place in July.
“When we realized that the two faculty that usually run the biomedical research camp were unable to do that this summer then we had to come up with an alternate plan,” Oldham said.
Oldham said they just ask that students keep an open mind and be ready to learn something new.
“We’ll be giving them computer access to Canvas course shell so that they can keep track of information similar to how a college student would. We’ll be providing, like I said, the snacks. We’ll also provide PPE any equipment that they need.”
Regan P. Buckaloo, director of Camps and Conferences at UTPB, said many students will be participating in athletic camps statewide. She noted that these are prospect-seeking camps for football and basketball. However, there will also be local athletic camps for younger children through high school.
There will be art camps where students will do screen printing, digital photography, 3D printing and stop motion animation.
“This is our second year for our musical theater camp sale. I think we’re having some repeat customers from last year,” Buckaloo said. “They really did enjoy themselves and that will culminate in a program for parents and guardians to come, attend and see their their efforts that have come from the week.”
A guitar camp will be offered starting June 5.
“We’re hosting a large and small choir camp to help those students get ready for their UIL competitions this school year,” Buckaloo said.
“We’ll be kind of rounding out the science programs with our engineering camp. It’s a four-week program that will start in July and it is in conjunction with the Army Educational Outreach Program. This is a really special camp. It there is no fee for the participants, and dependent on their participation, and participation being attendance, they are paid a weekly stipend of $100 per week for attendance … This program specifically serves underserved STEM students, so there are some criteria that need to be met and that is outlined on our website,” Buckaloo said.
She added that camp benefits children in many ways, academically and physically but also by helping them hone their interpersonal skills.
“I think with this stipend, it gives children … an opportunity to learn what a real job may be like and how you know coming and giving your best and attending each day and being there and being present you are rewarded for your good works,” Buckaloo said.
She said they hope the camps help attract more students and the instructors are experts in their fields.
“Camps (are) certainly a great way to raise the profile of the university, introduce students to university life, help them learn how to create those relationships with faculty and learn from current students who also participate in camps … We want to be a great partner to the community and I believe offering these camps is one of the ways that we can do that. We love to share what talent and resources we have here with the community and show off a little bit,” Buckaloo said.
“It certainly is our hope that students will have great and positive experiences here at UTPB and consider us when they’re making that selection for higher education as well,” she added.