‘Elon Explorers’ get hands-on experience at science enrichment camp

Elon hosted middle school students from the Alamance-Burlington School System for a five-day science camp focused on citizen science projects and summer enrichment. 

Some of Alamance County’s future scientists got a hands-on lesson about research at Elon.

​”It was very cool, really exciting,” said Dexter Hines, a rising eighth-grader at Woodlawn Middle School in Mebane. “A really nice experience.”

Hines joined about two dozen other Alamance-Burlington middle school students for the five-day Elon Explorers summer enrichment camp, a program funded by Elon and the Alamance Community Foundation.

The camp, advised by Mark Enfield, associate professor of education, and Jen Hamel, assistant professor of biology, offered high-achieving students the opportunity to contribute to citizen-science projects in which citizens collect data to assist scientists in ongoing research. The students also learned about the nature of science and practiced science communication, all while getting a glimpse at life on a college campus.

“It is an opportunity to connect with middle school students who are enthusiastic about science and interested in science and provide them with an opportunity outside of school to connect with it, to immerse in it, to meet scientists from all different types of backgrounds,” Hamel said.

The goal is to give students a fresh look at science and its impact on the world around them.

​”One student said that she had a spider in her bathroom, and she didn’t kill it,” Enfield said. “Instead, she decided to capture and release it. That’s the kind of stuff we want.”

The program included trips to Elon’s Loy Farm to collect and research insects, a visit to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and lectures from local scientists. Faculty advisors said the experience students gained throughout the program will carry over into the classroom and beyond.

“There’s a lot of evidence that an outside-of-school experience can have a really big impact on a student’s trajectory,” Hamel said. “And, there’s not that many outside-of-school experiences for students of this age who are excited about science.”

On ​Friday, July 12, the Explorers reflected on their week of activities in front of a room full of their families and advisors. Four groups of students presented their research findings for the week and discussed the lessons they will take back to school with them, including a new understanding of the scientific method.

“We learned that science experiments don’t always go as planned,” Hines said. “Sometimes you fail, and you’ll have to do a revision.”

​But, the lessons didn’t only focus on trial and error. Explorers went home with another key takeaway: anyone can be a scientist.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity to see kids who are just really excited about science, especially young girls,” said Sarah McLaurin, a fifth-grade science teacher from Claxton Elementary in Greensboro, who helped with the Explorers program. “It’s been wonderful to see them really getting involved in science and excited about the possibilities down the road.”

That message was clear to Jada Graves, a rising eighth-grader at Hawfields Middle School in Mebane, who called her week at Elon “special.”

“I learned a lot,” she said. “It was a nice environment. We learned so much, and I was excited to dig deeper into science.”​