“Explore. Discover. Achieve,” these are the words emblazoned on the backs of shirts for the rising 10th-12th-grade high school students who attended the annual Minority Youth Science Academy (MYSA).
The words held a particular purpose for the students as they spent the week on Samford’s campus at the residential program for outstanding minority high school students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
In a 2018 Pew Research Center study, the center showed that minorities are underrepresented in STEM occupations at less than 10%. The camp, now in its sixth year, seeks to address this shortage by encouraging early exposure to the variety of careers in STEM fields.
“Our ideal dream would be for each student to have the best collegiate experience with a career in STEM,” said Denise Gregory, chemistry professor and director of the Office of Diversity and Intercultural Initiatives. “I hope that students will use this camp experience to help them make valuable decisions about their future and how they can make a difference in their community.”
This year’s program included hands-on workshops in neurobiology, pharmacy, astronomy and offsite trips to learn about water filtration and creek exploration. Classes and workshops were taught by Samford staff, along with other minority STEM professionals. Mia Counts, a junior at Opelika High School, came to the camp with interest in genetics and forensic science but gained a greater understanding of the vast options in STEM.
“My mom is a nurse, so I was aware of the science field early on, but this camp has introduced me to even more science fields I could go into, so I’m excited to continue learning more before I make my college decisions,” she said.
For Hewitt Trussville High School junior Brelyn Turner, an interest kinesiology brought him to the camp, but he was even more surprised by the atmosphere he experienced at Samford.
“A mentor I have recommended this camp to me saying that it would be a really welcoming environment with nice teachers I could learn from,” he said. “It’s actually a little bit more than I expected. The people you meet here really try to stay involved with you and I like that aspect.”
In addition to career field introductions and connections with professionals in the field the program includes information that helps them navigate the world of college admission and scholarships. MYSA is also staffed by Samford students who assist with leading the attendees. According to Gregory, having Samford leaders was vital to helping camp attendees visualize themselves in the future.
“The camp counselors make a huge impact on the camp experience for our students,” she said. “Representation is important and our counselors provide an opportunity for our campers to see student a few years older than themselves in places they desire to be. “
Junior pharmacy student Zacchaeus Hampton hopes his role as a camp counselor motivates the campers to pay it forward.
“In the future when they evaluate their opportunities, I don’t necessarily hope they think about their time with me, but instead I hope whatever I say or do motivates them to go out and do the same for someone else.”