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Atlanta middle-school students join Wisconsin peers at science camp

July 14, 2010

This summer, there’s no cooler place to be than in the lab for two dozen scientifically minded middle-school students.

The students, from the innovative Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, arrived in Madison July 12 for a stem cell science camp that spans four days. The Georgia middle-school students are being paired with students from the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education’s Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE), which also works to advance academic achievement among students of color and from families with low incomes.

Organized by the Morgridge Institute for Research, a private, nonprofit biomedical research institute affiliated with UW–Madison, the Generation Acceleration stem cell science camp aims to introduce diverse middle-school students from challenging backgrounds to a variety of careers in the rapidly growing field of regenerative biology.

The students will work side by side with top university and Morgridge Institute stem cell researchers to learn about nourishing and culturing the blank slate cells into specialized heart muscle cells and neural cells, among other activities.

“We’re thrilled to welcome the Ron Clark Academy students and the PEOPLE Program students will help them feel right at home as they work together in the lab and experience life on campus,” says Rupa Shevde, director of outreach experiences for the Morgridge Institute for Research. “Middle school is a critical time for students, and research has shown that if you can excite them about science, they are more likely to pursue a career in science, technology or engineering. Knowledge empowers them and with this kind experience on campus, it’s our hope they will be more likely to choose the kinds of high-school classes they need to be prepared for college and beyond.”

Kim Bearden, co-founder and executive director of the Ron Clark Academy, says the trip to Wisconsin caps months of preparation for the students. The Ron Clark Academy combines focused classroom study with independent learning and enrichment programs to help students gain the skills, self-confidence and self-discipline they need to achieve their potential.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to experience what it’s like to be on a college campus and learn more about cutting-edge science from leaders in their respective fields,” Bearden says. “Through their hard work and individual achievement, these students have really earned the honor of participating and it’s a pleasure to partner with the Morgridge Institute and the PEOPLE program on this project.”

At the same time, working with students from the Ron Clark Academy offers an exciting opportunity for the PEOPLE scholars, says PEOPLE director Jacqueline DeWalt.

“It broadens their perspective on how many other college-bound and science-savvy students there are across the country,” says DeWalt. “In addition to exposure to potentially life-changing science and research, they are meeting students who could be their future academic and professional colleagues. This partnership also reinforces their home state of Wisconsin’s role as the epicenter of emerging scientific development and job markets.”

In addition to their work in the lab during the week, the students will be treated to a Wonders of Physics show and a special Chocolate 101 class.