UNC Asheville to debut new science program for rural migrant students

Press release from UNC Asheville: 

This summer, UNC Asheville will debut Science on the Move, a new program designed to help close the “opportunity gap” in science education and exposure to college for rural, migrant youth in Buncombe County. Thanks to a $174,948 grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, UNC Asheville will offer this full-day, two-week educational camp for the next three summers, with additional Saturday Science Expeditions during the school year for participating campers. This year’s summer camp session will be held in late July.

“Migrant farmworkers make a tremendous contribution to our region’s agriculture, but their children face big barriers to their education,” said UNC Asheville Interim Chancellor Joe Urgo. “We want to thank Burroughs Wellcome for this grant that will allow UNC Asheville to provide important educational enrichment for 30 students in grades 6-12 this summer, and special thanks to our partners in the Buncombe County Schools Migrant Education Program.”

“The Student STEM Enrichment Program grant award provides support and capacity for non-profit organizations to offer informal science exposure to students who might not otherwise have such access and opportunities,” said Alfred Mays, program officer for science education and diversity in science at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.  “Science on the Move will be a wonderful collaboration for creating excitement and enthusiasm for science within a community of need.”

“Buncombe County Schools is committed to preparing all of our students to the jobs of the future,” says Superintendent Tony Baldwin. “We are grateful to UNC Asheville and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund for providing a unique opportunity for our students to learn important STEM concepts with engaging hands-on activities.”

The idea for the summer program grew out of discussions between UNC Asheville Professor Irene Rossell, who chairs the Environmental Studies Department, and Nancy Moore, who coordinates the Migrant Education Program at Buncombe County Schools, and their work together to bring migrant students to campus for one-day environmental studies workshops.

“Those workshops went really well, so we were excited to try to do more,” said Rossell. “The kids who came to campus really want to further their education and education is a high priority for their families, but most don’t have transportation other than the school busses, so they can’t participate in after-school activities like Science Olympiad or clubs, tutoring or enrichment programs. This is an exciting opportunity where they can pick up a lot of skills and it will be a summer camp so we’re making it fun.”

This summer’s camp, with a Food for Thought theme, will involve indoor experiments with food chemistry as well as hands-on outdoor lessons in campus gardens and grounds, collecting and identifying insect pests and beneficial insects, investigating plant root architecture and water flow through different types of soil, germinating seeds and sampling edible wild plants. Professor Rossell will lead these lessons along with Evan Couzo, assistant professor of STEM Education.

They will be trained to use iPads to enter data, analyze results, research related topics, take photos, videos and sound recordings. UNC Asheville Associate Professor Lei Han, who chairs the New Media Department, will teach and mentor the students in producing their own digital storytelling videos, enhancing their experience with science through creative communication and expression and making it possible to share their experience with parents and families in an end-of-camp science celebration.

“A lot of the families have to travel for work part of the year but are looking to put down roots in Western North Carolina,” said Rossell. “We are really trying to get the kids to think about college because many are very bright and very motivated, but they face obstacles due to traveling, language and poverty. We want them to have fun while learning new skills, and then during the school year, engage them in an online science academy. There will also be three field trips during the school year. We hope to get them excited about science careers down the road.”

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