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Gearing up for STEM studies

Posted on Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at 3:16 pm

W&L GEAR UP sophomore Ne’Kya Day presents her biology experiment at the JMU Science Exhibition.

W&L GEAR UP sophomore Shane McNeill puts the finishing touch on his solar house at JMU STEM camp.

Seven W&L GEAR UP rising sophomores boarded a bus this past Sunday to attend a GEAR UP Virginia College Prep and STEM program at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. The camp was designed to help students develop an early awareness of the skills needed for successful college enrollment and allow the students to have a full college experience. The students attended three days of a specific college class in Biology studies. Students attending the program were divided into three groups for the STEM studies; “Bugs to Barcodes: an interdisciplinary science program presented by the JMU Biology department that provides students with hands-on experience in design thinking, experimental design, data collection and analysis, and digital manufacturing (3D printing) using mosquito vector-borne diseases as the course focus.” Track one was Ecology, where students learned techniques in fieldwork and collection. The students built mosquito traps using a 3D printer. Track two was Bioinformatics, where students learned to blend computer science and biology to identify and code data collected from the field work. Track three was Molecular Biology and Genetics where students focused on vector-borne disease at the molecular level. The students evaluated mosquito DNA sequences in order to identify which species are more susceptible to diseases.

W&L GEAR UP students who attended the camp include Aliyah Booker, Ne’Kya Day, Cameron Fisher, Rayshad Gaskins, Shane McNeill, Andres Murillo, and Trinity Petitt. All the students participated in the final day science showcase in the main ballroom on campus. Their classroom projects were displayed and students took turns explaining their scientific reviews to visitors at the program.

Additionally, the students participated in groups events every afternoon. They learned about the college application process, how to prepare for the application, how to choose careers and courses, and they participated in a wind science project where they built solar/wind houses.

The students also watched the movie “Hidden Figures” and participated in a fun-filled game night at JMU’s incredible student sports center.

In an effort to increase student college enrollment and success and to transform the lives of low-income families and their communities, GEAR UP Virginia (GUV) began offering college preparatory services and skills development to a cohort of seventh-grade students at 28 middle schools in 15 school districts beginning in 2014-15. These students will receive support through their first year of college, following high school graduation in 2020. This summer 21 Washington & Lee High School GEAR UP students attended two SPED summer camps. Westmoreland County Public Schools is the only school district in the Northern Neck to have been selected for the GEAR UP program.