Students learn new concepts during ERDC’s GEMS summer camps

Published July 21, 2023
Chaez Moore, a tenth grader at River City Early College, does a science project

Chaez Moore, a tenth grader at River City Early College, does a science project as his mother, Valtricia, observes his findings. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Khary Ratliff)

Makayla Bufkin, a ninth grader at River City Early College, experiments in one of the laboratories while her grandmother, Deborah Quimby, and her mother watches.

Makayla Bufkin, a ninth grader at River City Early College, experiments in one of the laboratories while her grandmother, Deborah Quimby, and her mother watches. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Khary Ratliff)

A new era of young scientists and engineers recently wrapped up summer camps geared toward preparing them for future careers in STEM.

Nearly 300 students entering grades 6-12 participated in the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s (ERDC) Gains in Education of Math and Science (GEMS) Summer STEM Camps from June 12 – July 21. The camps were held at ERDC Headquarters, the Academy of Innovation and River City Early College.

GEMS, a summer enrichment STEM camp sponsored by the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP), exposes students to various aspects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Shelly Tingle, an ERDC research civil engineer who works with the GEMS I and II Biology and Forensic Science and 3D Printing camps, spoke about the many scientific concepts that students learned, giving them a real-world view of how researchers solve problems in the field.

“Biology camps offer practical, experiential learning opportunities beyond the classroom,” said Tingle. “Students engage in various fieldwork activities, such as collecting samples, conducting experiments, and analyzing data. These hands-on experiences enhance their understanding of biological concepts and strengthen their scientific skills.”

For Tingle, the joy of working with GEMS camps is seeing the flashing lightbulb moment the students experience once they discover solutions to their scientific problems.

“Seeing the ‘Aha’ moments when students grasp complex concepts, solve problems they were struggling with, or make a breakthrough in their understanding is what I enjoy the most,” Tingle said. “GEMS camps provide students opportunities to connect theoretical knowledge and real-world applications.”

Drawing parallels between the classroom and the professional world is another experience for students during GEMS. Chaez Moore, who will enter the tenth grade at River City Early College this year, enjoyed getting a glimpse into the day-to-day scenarios of a seasoned researcher.

“We learned many things and have seen many things that scientists do in their field,” said Moore. “We learned about aspects of forensics such as blood typing at crime scenes. I liked the forensic experiments, and I think it’s a great field.”

Chaez’s mother, Valtricia Moore, felt that enrolling her son in GEMS was ideal for feeding his hunger for knowledge.

“Participating in the program was a good experience for Chaez,” said Valtricia Moore. “He learned a lot in this summer camp. I’m proud he’s involved and willing to learn new things.”

Meeting and creating bonds with their peers made the students’ experience more fun. Makayla Bufkin, who is entering the ninth grade at River City Early College, appreciated making new friends while learning more about science.

“I enjoyed the camp,” said Bufkin. “Not only did we learn, but also, we made connections with new friends. Making new friends will help me prepare to start my freshman year at River City Early College. The camp taught me a lot.”

Parents of the students praised ERDC for providing programs that foster the youths’ talents while introducing them to possible career paths. Deborah Quimby, director of Corporate Communications at ERDC and Makayla’s grandmother, believes her granddaughter’s participation exposed her to many career avenues in science.

“I think STEM would be a great career for her,” said Quimby. “Regardless of what she decides to do with her career, what she’s learning in GEMS will help her as she continues her education. These science and math activities will continue to pique her interest and help her decide what she wants to do with her life.”

STEM camps also help ERDC to identify talented young scientists and engineers who could work for the agency in the future. Tracy Gordon, integration and STEM outreach coordinator at ERDC, said a primary goal of the camps are to inspire and recruit.

“This program is designed to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers,” said Gordon. “This is an opportunity for us at ERDC to begin the recruiting pipeline, so they’ll work for us in the future.”

Teachers for the camp also enjoyed passing their knowledge to the students. Kelda Bailess, a biology teacher at River City Early College who also serves as Warren County’s deputy coroner, appreciates the opportunity to share her passion for forensics with students eager to learn.

“I enjoy teaching the students forensics and providing them an immersive experience where they’re able to strengthen their biology skills, exposing them to different career fields under the forensic umbrella,” said Bailess. “I love seeing them take advantage of the resources we’re giving them to explore and investigate to solve problems.”

Several teachers also applauded their students for their work ethic. Camile Buxton, college and career readiness advisor at River City Early College, praised the students for their exuberance.

“I was impressed with the enthusiasm of our students,” said Buxton. “The students loved everything about the projects and worked tirelessly to learn the ins and outs of their experiments. Our students did an exceptional job.”

Educators appreciate ERDC’s effort to bring opportunities to the community’s youth. Dr. Tammy Smith, River City Early College principal, thanks the agency for their outreach.

“ERDC’s partnership with our school and others in the Vicksburg area helps increase students’ excitement about math and science,” said Smith. “The program shows our students that Vicksburg has amazing opportunities to offer.”