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McNeese Hosts Several Summer Science Camps

McNeese Hosts Several Summer Science Camps

Participant of Alligator program
Michalis Crysochoou, a student at Anatolia College in Thessaloniki, Greece, holds the alligator he caught during the Crocodilian Biochemistry Academy.

(August 2, 2017) Sixty local and international high school students are currently on the McNeese State University campus, studying everything from crime scene analysis to the science of fertilizers, as part of a series of summer immersive science-based camps hosted by the university.

Established five years ago, the summer camp program was designed so students could live on campus and spend their days fully immersed in a scientific discipline, according to Dr. Nikos Kiritsis, dean of McNeese’s College of Engineering and Computer Science. Working with two schools from his native country of Greece, the Anatolia College and the American Farm School, Kiritsis also saw the camp as a way for international students to see what McNeese had to offer.

“It’s a great opportunity for local students to meet other students from another country,” he says. “That cultural exchange is really valuable for students.”

The goals for the first year were modest. The first program only had six attendees -- four students from Greece and two students from Southwest Louisiana.

The program began with only one camp – the Crocodilian Biochemistry Academy. Students traveled with McNeese professor Dr. Mark Merchant to the marshes of southwest Texas to capture blood samples from alligators and learn about the unique immune system of these reptiles using lab equipment to test the blood samples.

He then added other camps to the roster: the Summer Engineering Academy, which offers students hands-on projects in chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, and the Forensic Chemistry Academy, where students learn about crime collection and detection and conduct experiments using common forensic techniques. 

Crime Scence participants
High school students attending the Forensic Chemistry Academy at McNeese State University this summer learn how to collect evidence at a “crime scene.”

This year, the program added a new Agriculture Science Academy. Kiritsis says this program is focused on familiarizing students with a wide range of agricultural aspects, from the makeup of Louisiana’s soil to conservation, veterinary science and hydroponic vegetable gardening.

“The agriculture program takes the students all the way from the fields to the McNeese farms,” says Kiritsis. “It exposes them to agriculture economics and agriculture businesses. It’s very hands-on.”
Each camp also offers students the opportunity to visit various sites to learn more about the real-life applications of the knowledge they’re gaining. Students take overnight trips to local places of scientific and cultural interest such as Houston’s NASA Space Center, the Creole Nature Trail, New Orleans and Avery Island.

“The programs are designed to be more experiential rather than reading and exercise-based,” says Kiritsis. “Kids learn by doing and by being exposed to the discipline, rather than by having a book or a paper they have to read or homework they have to do. They are working in a lab and getting exposed to the discipline they like in a very active way.”

He reports that the value of these programs can also be seen in the number of international students who return to McNeese after taking part in the summer camps.

“We had a student from Greece who was in our first class, who went back to Greece, graduated from high school and came back to attend McNeese,” Kiritsis says. “He got both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from McNeese. Our hope is that the international students who attend the summer program and experience what McNeese has to offer will want to return to our campus as McNeese students.”

Participants of the Bridge Building program
During the Summer Engineering Academy at McNeese State University, high school students are tasked with building a structurally sound bridge with Popsicle sticks.