Grad Students Lead Science Summer Camps

BIOTEC participants.

BIOTEC participants.

The UCF Department of Biology and the Biology Graduate Student Association (BGSA) have collaborated with the UCF Chemistry Department and the Uknighted Chemistry Graduate Student Association (UCGSA) for the second annual Biology Integrated Orlando Training and Enrichment Camp (BIOTEC) and fifth annual Orlando Chemistry Tutoring, Enrichment and Training Camp (OCTET).

BIOTEC, held June 27 – July 2, and OCTET, held July 11 – 16, consisted of a series of discussions, activities and lab trainings on UCF’s main campus. UCF biology and chemistry graduate student members of the BGSA and UCGSA engaged local high school students in group problem-solving and informational activities through science-based activities. Both camps, directed by UCF Chemistry professor Florencio Hernandez, Ph.D., received funding from the National Science Foundation, UCF Departments of Biology and Chemistry and the American Chemical Society.

The camps were created to foster the future generation of young leaders in the physical sciences in the Central Florida region and prepare them in the fundamental areas of STEM. The free camps accept up to 40 academically competitive high school students who have taken honors, IB or AP courses in their discipline. The camps, coordinated by biology graduate student Tiffani Manteuffel and chemistry graduate student Julie Donnelly, also provide teaching and instruction practice for current UCF graduate students leading the camps.

“It’s very interactive,” stated biology graduate student and BIOTEC Coordinator, Tiffani Manteuffel. “The goal is to not just answer questions or memorize things. We are trying to get them to think critically like scientists.”
For the biology segments, BIOTEC highlighted important college level biology concepts such as microbiology, anatomy, physiology, ecology and conservation biology. These lessons were instructed by graduate students in the UCF Biology Department who volunteered their time.

“This is my second year teaching the physiology segment of BIOTEC,” said UCF biology doctoral student and aspiring professor, Molly Grace. “It’s really fun. It’s good for me because physiology is my main area of research, but teaching this allows me to become more familiar with it and expand my knowledge of biology. And the kids are awesome– they’re so engaged.”

Some of these activities included a life-size board game where students were assigned Florida animals looking for resources through different stages of a changing landscape due to human interaction. This was an exploration of ecology and the interaction of animals with changes to their natural habitat. Lab dissections also gave the participants hands on experience. Pre and post assessments were given to gauge the students’ progress throughout the camp.

UCF BIOTEC video by UCF, Aileen Perilla

In the following week, OCTET kicked off its camp with a fun tie-dye activity that incorporated scientific concepts of dyes bonding to different fibers.

“Due to the nature of chemistry, OCTET is more lecture based,” explained Domenic Valenti, UCF Chemistry alumnus and former Vice President of the UCGSA. “However we have labs that incorporate hands-on activities. For example, we have a lab section where the students use food coloring made of different types of dyes and use different techniques to separate them.”

General chemistry I and II material such as states of matter and atomic structure, as well as organic and biochemistry, were covered throughout the week. Experiments such as using fruit to conduct electricity were incorporated into the camp’s daily activities. Campus lab tours were given as well.

f1822528According to former UCGSA secretary Yuly Vesga, these camps have proven to be effective in inspiring the youth to pursue scientific careers.

“We have a student from last year who is doing research in our lab,” said Vesga. “She started doing research with us at the beginning of January. We helped her with a science fair project and now she has graduated [high school] and is going to attend UCF in the fall. This program and the research opportunities provided at UCF play an important part in helping students like her decide what they want to be in the future.”

OCTET, established in 2011, has served as a model for graduate student led summer camps at UCF. OCTET laid the foundation for BIOTEC, which began in 2015 and is now creating new ground for a summer camp led by physics graduate students called PhYSICOS that will begin next year.


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