Local middle schoolers in the Elon Explorers summer bug camp shared their findings and experience during the week-long STEM enrichment program.
Thirteen local middle schoolers spent a week researching insect ecology, animal biodiversity and other topics in the week-long Elon Explorers summer camp program run by Associate Professor of Education Mark Enfield and Associate Professor of Biology Jen Hamel.
“This cohort of students were pretty enthusiastic from the get-go,” Hamel said. “I feel really happy that we have encouraged that enthusiasm and supported them and given them lots of fun, confidence-building experiences.”
The 13 middle school students from the Alamance-Burlington School System (ABSS) presented their findings from the Bug Camp on Friday, June 17.
The week-long camp is designed to make STEM education more interesting and accessible. Through activities such as classifying and counting macroinvertebrates to test the water’s overall health, investigating which colors attract different pollinators, and collecting, labeling and pinning various types of insects just as professional researchers would, students are given a glimpse into how STEM research can be rewarding as well as enlightening.
“Sometimes there is unexpected beauty in what most people fear – bugs for instance,” said Selene Vega Vela, a raising freshman set to begin at Western Alamance High School in the fall.
Enfield said they have worked closely with the ABSS to ensure that what the students study in the Elon Explorers program directly correlates to what students learn during the school year.
“This summer has been great because we’ve started to hook in with how does the program experiences fit into the school curriculum, how does this fit in with the state expectations for teachers so that what the kids are learning here will be applicable to what they’re doing in school,” Enfield said.
In September 2021, the Elon Explorers program, one of the Student STEM Enrichment Programs (SSEP) in North Carolina, received a grant of $147,570 from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. That funding allowed for Elon Explorers to expand into year-round programming – including the monthly Science Slices event and a spring break institute set to start in 2023 – hiring more staff and increased access to materials and equipment.
“That makes the experience more engaging and interesting for the students,” Enfield said.
Hamel said that involving ABSS teachers and staff in the summer camp has not only deepened Elon’s relationship with ABSS but allowed for Elon to have a more active role with students throughout the year. “We can tailor our programming to support what teachers are doing,” Hamel said.
Jenn Russell, a math and science academic coach at Broadview Middle School, assisted with the Explorers summer camp and said, “Learning through the eyes of middle schoolers, college students and college professors was truly an amazing experience.”
Faith Minor ’23 is in the process of becoming a middle school science teacher and said that the week-long camp reminded them why they are so passionate about science education.
“I was in a similar camp when I was a middle schooler which is really what made me interested in Elon Explorers. I was excited when I heard about the program and wanted to be involved,” Minor said.
“The idea of getting to ignite passion or interest in the younger generation sounds super awesome to me,” said Reb Carranza ’23, a biology major who was also a camp counselor. “Bugs are cool but these kids are cooler.”