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Astronaut speaks with IU summer campers about science education

By Kevin Doran

One small step began with a childhood dream, at least for Bernard Harris.

About 90 fifth, sixth and seventh graders from across the state came to IU this week to take part in the 2009 ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp, named in honor of the first black man to perform a spacewalk.

Harris was a guest speaker Thursday in the Frangipani Room of the Indiana Memorial Union and spoke to the campers about the importance of math and science, as well as about why and how he became an astronaut.

Harris said he had wanted to be an astronaut since he watched the moon landing in 1969.

He said the camp is meaningful to him because he believes education is very important to the future and said he wants to foster a spirit in which students value their intelligence.

“What you’re doing is OK,” Harris said. “Your love of math and science is critical for the future. It’s cool to be a geek.”

The camp is free and helps facilitate learning for those interested in sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics for middle school students in underrepresented areas.

This particular camp’s main theme is sustainability with a focus on water as an important resource.

The camp is for middle school students, organizers said, because they believe the time before high school is a critical period for keeping students interested in learning.
“We were very interested because science does not get as much attention as it should,” said Marva Coleman, one of the instructors and a science lab teacher from Glen Park Academy Elementary School in Gary. “This should be a boost for both students and teachers.”

In addition to the classes, the students get to live in a dorm and get some insight into the college experience for the time they are here.

“I got a little taste of the college experience,” said Osiris Morales, a 13-year-old camper from Hammond who said he wants to be an engineer. “There’s a lot of walking.”

Harris concluded his speech by relating how small and then large he felt during his first spacewalk, and he said he hopes to inspire all the campers to follow their dreams so they, too, can feel that pride.

“The moral of the story is you are powerful when you realize who you really are,” Harris said. “Realizing who you really are and your abilities and your willingness to work hard will lead you to do things that other people consider to be impossible.”

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