'U' offers camp for socioeconomically disadvantaged middle school students

By Jessica Trepka, For the Daily
Published August 13, 2011

InnoWorks — a science summer camp program held at the University and other schools around the nation for socioeconomically disadvantaged middle school students — will embark upon its fourth year at the University in the quest to enrich the minds of local youths when it opens camp at the end of August.

With the philosophy of “by students, for students,” college volunteers organize a week long camp of activities and experiments using resources offered by the University to teach real-world applications of science and engineering, according to the United InnoWorks Academy website. This year, the camp will be composed of Whitmore Lake Middle School students and be held from Aug. 22 to Aug. 26.

According to Jon Gold, an engineering senior who works as director of administration for the camp, the program focuses on a different school in the Ann Arbor area each year, and students who qualify for reduced lunches at that school are eligible to apply by expressing why they feel they should be chosen to attend the free summer camp.

Gold said that while the program receives many applications, only 30 students are accepted, adding that the admissions process aims to take into account more than just academic achievement and “is not all about grades.”

“We are really looking for students with a natural desire to learn and get better,” Gold said.

He added his favorite part of the camp is seeing students continually grow throughout the week and gain confidence.

“As the week goes on, a lot of the shy students would learn how to take charge for projects,” Gold said. “Once they came up with great ideas and started working together, you could see on their face the realization that they really have something to contribute.”

Valerie Zeer, an LSA sophomore and the camp’s curriculum co-director, said the InnoWorks program is unique because the camp takes the students out of the classroom and branches out from traditional learning by providing them with opportunities to learn about science using hands-on activities.

Zeer said her personal interest in studying neuroscience first stemmed from a former science teacher who performed experiments with the students after every lesson.

“Originally, I absolutely hated science,” Zeer said. “I thought it was boring. I always said making science hands-on was the way I had my interest sparked in science.”

Marjani Greene, a tenth-grade student who participated in the camp last year, said her favorite part of the camp was the germ lab.

“It was interesting because I got to see how many germs there really are,” Greene said.

She added the camp inspired her to pursue a career in forensics.

“I decided to go into forensics because I really like problem solving,” Greene said. “I learned a lot about problem solving at InnoWorks. The camp made me enjoy it more. I was able to sit down and investigate.”

Nikhil Iyer, an LSA junior and statistics and executive director of the program, said campers work closely with their college mentors in finding a possible career path in a science-related field.

“The camp inspires them to learn more about careers of research in science,” Iyer said. “They work with their mentors and see how cool it is to do science. It’s possible to have fun doing science.”