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Investigators of Science 2023 Success

Investigators of Science, a STEM exploration day-camp for middle school students held in collaboration between Eastern Oregon University (EOU) and NEOAHEC, held its 21st annual event at the EOU campus on November 4, 2023. Students used biology, chemistry, health & human performances, math, and computer science methods to solve the mystery of a local man turning into a zombie after a vacation out of the country. Drawing 101 attendees from five counties across Oregon— Baker, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa—the event served as an exceptional platform for young minds to engage with various scientific disciplines. As NEOAHEC’s Program Coordinator Michelle Mudder puts it, “This day camp helps build confidence in young students and allows them dream about their future.”

Nichole Erwin, a science teacher at Sunridge Middle School in Pendleton, was our biggest recruiter this year! Forty of her students attended the 2023 camp thanks to her efforts in promoting the event in class with pictures from previous years. Nichole is a longtime supporter of Investigators of Science, so we reached out to her and asked about her experiences with the program.

One of Nicole’s former students is working towards the nursing program and volunteered this year. “Right away, she told me she remembered attending camp and how much she loved it and often thinks about her 12-year-old self, walking around the campus feeling smart and brave!” Nichole added from her own experience, “This is worth every Saturday I have dedicated to taking as many students as possible to camp! One of the best parts of participating in this program long-term is being able to see students move down the health career pathway.”

It wasn’t just recruitment that Nichole helped with, but also scholarships. “What started as me asking/begging friends and family to help caravan from Pendleton to EOU gave way to an AAUW of Pendleton OR Branch grant.” The American Association of University Women (AAUW) generously agreed to pay for the registration fees and provide bussing to all 50 students from Sunridge, Pilot Rock, and Athena/Weston schools. In addition to the scholarships Nichole found, the Ukiah School District also provided scholarships for the four students from their school.

She reflects, “When was the last time you heard of about forty middle schoolers happily arriving at school at 7:00 am on a Saturday to catch a bus for an hour-long ride to go to science camp?”

This event is a very immersive experience for these students, as many of them have never been on a college campus or to La Grande. Nichole notes, “The opportunity for them to see science as bigger than our classroom, where whole buildings are dedicated to different types of sciences and labs where they get to experience hands-on science, gets my students talking about college.”

Anna Cavinato, a professor of Chemistry at EOU, has been volunteering to help with this event for over 20 years. She sees the event as a valuable opportunity for young people to receive an early admiration for the sciences. “The event offers a unique opportunity for children to experience a variety of investigations in STEM and health related fields as they engage in solving a fun mystery. I hope this kind of experience will inspire the next generation to pursue careers in health or sciences, particularly young women and children from underrepresented groups.” Anna will be retiring after this year, and NEOAHEC appreciates all the hard work she has put in to help NEOAHEC over the years.

Volunteers like Nichole and Anna are what make Investigators of Science particularly effective at getting kids excited about their future careers. As Anna sees it, “The event would not be possible without EOU faculty and students and NEOAHEC staff working together. We are an amazing team! Each organization brings complementary skills from science curriculum development to taking care of logistics, and all the hard work culminates in a wonderful day of learning for so many kids!” While this event in particular is not healthcare specific, NEOAHEC continues its involvement because it opens young people's minds to the variety of STEM disciplines and works to get middle school students excited about their future careers.

This was Michelle’s first year organizing Investigators of Science, and the value of the program was clear when she watched the students during the event. “The excitement of watching a middle school student step into Badgely Hall, the Science building on EOU's campus, is heartwarming. I had the opportunity to speak to students throughout the day and it was so cool to see their interest in the sciences grow. It was fun to ask them questions about future career opportunities and to show them how science is everywhere, especially in healthcare.”

The next Investigators of Science camp will take place in Fall of 2024. Returning campers are encouraged through middle school, and current 8th Graders are welcome to sign up for our 2024 MedQuest!