Campers at UTA Conduct Experiments with Retired Astronaut Bernard Harris

Retired astronaut Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr., assists students as they build a model spacecraft at the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Camp at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Photo Credit: Autumn Sanders

Some teens spend their summers playing video games, hanging at the mall with friends and pretty much anything other than thinking about school.

But middle school students attending the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Camp at the University of Texas at Arlington have been hard at work this month expanding their knowledge in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Earlier this week, about 40 teens from the Dallas-Fort Worth area had an out-of-this-world experience during the camp’s Mars Lander Challenge. Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr., the first African-American to walk in space, visited with the students on Wednesday, June 21, and assisted as they conducted science experiments with the help of ExxonMobil engineers and university faculty.

Dr. Harris, a retired NASA astronaut, said he founded the Harris Foundation to provide underprivileged children with the resources they need to attend college.

“I think this country needs kids like the ones in this camp, who are knowledgeable about math and science,” Dr. Harris said during Wednesday’s camp. “So the Harris Foundation, and The ExxonMobil Foundation, we’re just doing our small part in trying to help.”

Students participating in the Mars Lander Challenge at the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Camp at UTA.
Photo Credit: Autumn Sanders

The two-week, all-expenses-paid program gives students who will be entering 6th, 7th and 8th Grade in fall 2017 hands-on experience and reveals the science behind technologies used on a daily basis. The camp aims to encourage students to consider careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields.

During the camp’s focus on water resources earlier this month, students visited a water treatment plant and participated in activities such as designing 3D printed drinking cups.

“We’re racing boats made out of cardboard boxes – that part was my favorite,” said Mariah Newman, a sixth-grader from Fort Worth.

As part of the Mars Lander Challenge, campers designed model space-craft capable of protecting an astronaut during a planetary landing. Students dropped their spacecraft from designated height intervals to mimic the impact and shock of a planetary landing.

Douglas Umoru, a seventh grader from Cedar Hill, was among campers who created their handmade spacecraft out household items. Umoru said he has enjoyed the camp at UTA so much he is already planning to return.

“I want to be a scientist, something that will help me change the world,” said Umoru, who added that he wants to build smart homes for people with disabilities. “It’s been so cool. I definitely want to come again next year.”

Students at the camp dropped their handmade spacecraft from designated height intervals to mimic the impact and shock of a planetary landing.
Photo Credit: Autumn Sanders

Office of Communications intern Yazmine Jackson contributed to this report.