La Verne Hosts USDA Summer Science Camp, Inspires Young Minds

July 24, 2013 by University of La Verne

Students went on a half-day field trip to UCR to hear from researchers at USDA sponsored Agricultural Research Stations (ARS, another USDA branch). Dr. Donald Suarez lectures to students in one of the research greenhouses at the USDA Salinity Lab.

An interest in biology for many students stems from an ambition to eventually become a medical doctor. Such is the case for many students enrolled in the biology program at the University of La Verne.

However, one of the goals of the department is to expose students to the many non-medical career opportunities that are available to them early on so that they have a clear understanding of what their options in the sciences are.

During the week of July 8 – 12, La Verne hosted its second consecutive United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Science Camp, one of the tools the biology department hopes will inspire students at an early age to discover what science has to offer.

“The USDA camp highlights many of the non-medical career options, most of which students are unaware,” said Stacey Darling-Novak, professor of biology and the summer camp’s primary director.  “The sooner students find their passion within the many biology sub-disciplines, the easier it is to discover the career path that best suits them.”

With the help of funding through a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) USDA grant that La Verne received in 2011, select Inland-area high school and community college students are invited to the main campus for a better understanding of the types of work (field and laboratory) that they could be doing as a researcher or technician for the USDA and an awareness of career opportunities with the various branches of the USDA.

The camp is also designed for students to learn more about molecular biology and field techniques used by scientists whose research objectives are in line with the USDA goals.

The USDA camp is offered free of charge to local high school and community college students.

Over the last two years, 54 high school students and 12 community college students have been accepted to the program, not including eight incoming La Verne freshmen.

Guided by Darling-Novak with the help of fellow La Verne faculty and student assistants, students were introduced to and heard lectures from speakers such as the director of the U.S. Forest Service, Fabian Garcia and Assistant District Supervisor of South District CA Wildlife Services, Ryan McCreary. There were also many hands-on activities, such as research fieldtrips up to Mt. Baldy, San Antonio Creek and laboratory projects that encompassed DNA extractions.

“Students received a good amount of laboratory and field experience for such a short camp, but it is enough to get them exposed to several types of equipment and techniques. The camp really helps students to begin to build that knowledge and skill set that is essential for success in the major,” said Darling-Novak.

The biology department is currently applying for a third year extension on the grant to make is possible for more local students to experience the USDA summer camp next summer as well.




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