July 15, 2008

Maryland Program Gets Students to Say YES to Science and Engineering

By Ike Wilson, The Frederick News-Post, Md.

Jul. 15--In one week, Justin Macauley learned about DNA samples, bacteria and atoms; Lillian Wherry used scientific experiments to solve a mystery; and Logan Staley became acclimated to the Hood College environment. These middle school students are three of 150 participants in the Young Engineers and Scientists Program that aims to turn young people on to science this summer.

The Fort Detrick YES Program -- a partnership with Hood College, Mount St. Mary's University and Frederick County Public Schools -- offers a weeklong experience in laboratory science and engineering. The program is open to all schools in Frederick County and to children of individuals who work at Fort Detrick.

The first group of 30 students graduated Thursday, each receiving $50 and a certificate.

By all accounts, YES is meeting its goal.

"Many students don't come in excited about doing science experiments, but by the end of the program they learn so much that they don't want to leave," said Pooja Rao, a Walkersville High School intern who assists YES coordinator Carrie Michaels.

"I feel that the program is a great opportunity for young children to be exposed to engineering and science experiments taught in high school and even college. It opens up their minds to new areas of learning." That's the program's intent, said Lt. Col. Felicia Langel, a YES program coordinator.

"You were learning college-level science and math this week and you didn't even know it, and you were successful," Langel told the graduates. "So if you challenge yourself, you can be successful." The graduation event at Hood's Hodson Science and Technology Center included demonstrations of biological containment methods. The students got to work with a $30,000 Personal Isolation Unit and learn about biosafety levels from Fort Detrick scientists.

Michaels also credited the program's success to the seven "Near-Peer" instructors -- high school and college students who were trained for two weeks by scientists and professors in the experiments they then taught the students.

The Near-Peers -- Mirna Martinez, Asaph Yeh, David Goodfriend, David Jarkey, Margaret Flora and Kylie Ford -- got the brunt of the work in a very challenging program, Michaels said.

Near-Peer instructor David Goodfriend, a recent Gov. Thomas Johnson High School graduate, will begin engineering studies at Virginia Tech in the fall.

"The program includes some complex and challenging material," Goodfriend said, "but it is designed to be both difficult and fun.""We perform several experiments relating to the growth of bacteria, DNA, and several physics concepts," said Near-Peer instructor Margaret Flora, a senior at T.J.

Flora wants to major in math and secondary education in college. "I have always been interested in math and science, which is why it is such a pleasure to work in a science-based camp such as the YES Program," she said.

Ikea Wilson, a T.J. sophomore, works as the program's Near-Peer public relations representative.

"I got to actually talk to these interns and get their perspective on things, and I've observed their growth and progression," Wilson said. "And let me tell you, I was impressed, and I am honored to be a part of the YES Program."

Army Education Outreach Program Manager Lanae Y. Johnson said her vision for YES is to get the students back for a second phase, "to progressively start moving them up so that once they reach working age, they will be able to work on Fort Detrick or in any area of interest to them." Johnson said YES was established as a 501(c)3 program so community members can make tax deductible donations to expand the project.


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