Eager area high school students with a love and curiosity for science who spend part of their summer vacation at Emory University School of Medicine's Summer Science Discovery Camp and Academy programs not only gain a strong foundation in science, they learn valuable lessons life lessons as well.
This year, by the closing sessions, they're armed with enough knowledge to create their own play for a murder mystery dinner theater -- using topics they've learned about over the course of the science programs.
Sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Medical Student Affairs, the camp was originally birthed in 1995 from humble beginnings by Robert Lee, Ph.D., associate dean for multicultural medical student affairs, to demonstrate the principle that "high expectations often produce high achievement." With eight students (two of them his own sons), four parents, $600 from his own pocket, and volunteer lunches provided by parents, he was set to determine if the Atlanta metropolitan area would embrace and support a summer science camp experience.
"They were a curious lot," Dr. Lee recalls. "Mostly African-American males, some girls, two Asian students, but no Caucasians at the time. We took them to Lullwater Park, Zoo Atlanta, an in-town nature preserve, and various other places looking for science in everyday life."
Now with a capacity of 15 campers per session, the Camp has three two-week sessions per summer for eighth through 10th graders, and in 2000, expanded to include an Academy program for 11th and 12 graders held in two three-week sessions. More than 800 students have been enrolled in both programs since their inception. The students have represented families across the racial, economic, educational, and metro Atlanta geographical spectra, although reaching African-American and Hispanic students has been a central goal of the programs.
Anitra Sumbry, one of the lead counselors, is a rising senior at Emory College. After graduating with a degree in biology and political science, she plans to attend medical school to obtain a combined MD/MPH degree so she can pursue a career in emergency medicine.
"When I heard of this program, I knew it was something I'd be interested in," Sumbry says. "I've worked in summer camps before but never one that was just focused on science. I attended a camp like this when I was younger, and it introduced me to the field of science. I loved the idea of giving that same opportunity to another student."
Counselor and second-year Emory medical student Adaeze Adigweme has always enjoyed teaching and mentoring kids, especially in the math and science fields.
"I think it's important that we get kids really excited about this field early so they can be inspired to pursue careers that are often perceived by young people as being too difficult," says Adigweme, who aspires to enter an internal medicine specialty field. "When they leave the camp, I want them to have a large bank of knowledge in the sciences that most people don't learn until college or medical school."
Other counselors include second-year Emory medical students Elizabeth Gooding and Matt Wallace; Andy Kedir, a 2005 neuroscience graduate of Emory College; and Gregory Malik Burnett, a past alumnus of the Academy who is entering his junior year at Duke University.
"It's our hope and desire that students better understand that science is all around us and that people of color and females can learn and enjoy science," Dr. Lee says.
To better prepare the students for college, there are college admissions sessions conducted by the Emory College admissions office. Dr. Lee also notes that Emory University's Office of Multicultural Medical Student Affairs is beginning to institute a tracking system to determine the educational pathways alumni have taken.