Former UW Astro Camp Event Finds New Funding, Receives New Moniker

From 2010-15, middle school students from Wyoming and other parts of the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions were transformed into stargazers and scientists during the University of Wyoming’s “AstroCamp: Journey to the Stars” summer science camp.

However, funding from sponsors ExxonMobil and the Harris Foundation dried up. As a result, UW did not host an AstroCamp the last two summers. But that is about to change.

Buoyed by a three-year $150,000 commitment from an anonymous donor in Teton County, the revamped event, now called the UW-Teton STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Academy, will take place Aug. 5-10 on the UW campus.

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“He has a real passion to provide students an opportunity in STEM-related disciplines,” John Stark, senior vice president for development with the UW Foundation, says of the donor. “He’s generously agreed to start this program and hopes it will lead to others wanting to support the program. It’s a great start.”

Stark says he had been talking to the donor about an estate plan when Stark recalled a conversation he had with Donal Skinner, dean of the UW Honors College.

“He (Skinner) sang the praises of AstroCamp,” Stark says. “He said UW received good attention on AstroCamp and received some good students. That resonated with me. So, I pitched the project to the donor.”

The $50,000 for this year’s UW-Teton STEM Academy will fund the attendance of 20 Wyoming middle school students.

“The fact that we had almost three times as many applicants as we have spots says there’s a big demand for residential programs like this,” says Chip Kobulnicky, a UW professor of physics and astronomy, and a co-director of the camp. “We want these sixth- through eighth-graders and their families to see science, math, engineering and UW as a realistic part of their future. I’m grateful for the vision of this generous donor to launch something that can become an ongoing legacy.”

The hands-on camp will allow students to observe the universe with professional telescopes; study astronomical images on computers; construct scientific spectrographs to identify chemical elements; build and launch model rockets; conduct soil tests; create solar ovens; and test their own Mars landers to see whether, in this case, they can land an egg softly enough without breaking it.

“This year’s theme is similar to those we’ve had in the past,” Kobulnicky says. “Campers will plan a journey to Mars as they engage in hands-on, inquiry-based lessons in life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering.”

Campers will attend classes that include problem-solving, earth sciences, and engineering and design concepts. Students also will go on a day hike in the Snowy Range. Students will investigate the scientific, technological and biological factors that will be required to travel to distant planets and stars.

Professional astronomers; UW graduate students majoring in astronomy or education; and high school and junior high school teachers will lead the activities.

UW’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, cooperating with the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium, will organize and conduct the camp. In addition to Kobulnicky, Samantha Ogden and Megan Candelaria, both from the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium, will serve as co-directors this year.

Students entering the sixth, seventh and eighth grades — from Wyoming — were encouraged to apply for the UW camp. The free academic camp supports historically underserved and underrepresented students with limited opportunities.

Campers were chosen based on demonstrated interest and academic potential in math, science, astronomy, and space. Students need to have at least a “B” average in science and mathematics, and a passing score on the state’s standardized science and mathematics tests. As part of the application process, students had to submit written essays on why they wanted to attend the science camp.

“I think camps like this are the most far-reaching activity we can undertake for the benefit of Wyoming’s youth. We want to inspire them onward to challenging, fulfilling careers that empower future generations and prosper Wyoming as a state,” Kobulnicky says. “I’m excited to have funding to sponsor this camp again because it’s possibly the most rewarding thing I do all year, impacting the lives of these young people.”

For more information, call Ogden at (307) 766-6506 or email her at smarqua1@uwyo.edu.

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