STEM enrichment part of Cabarrus STARS summer camp

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 30, 2015

In early June, two middle school boys got in trouble at school for threatening each other during end-of-grade testing. The conflict could have festered over the summer and led to future disrespect and consequential disciplinary action; instead, these young men have been able to settle their differences thanks to their willingness to grow as individuals and due to the skills gained and opportunities afforded through the Cabarrus STARS program.

Cabarrus STARS (Students Taking a Right Stand) is a male youth leadership program creating a healthy, positive school community through mentorship and positive role modeling. These two young men demonstrated a key success of the program, voluntarily and excitedly working together to complete a scavenger hunt sponsored by Cabarrus STARS. In addition to the work that the program has done with male youth throughout the academic year, the program is in the midst of an eight-day camp, July 27 through Aug. 6, at A.L. Brown High School, where 23 minority youth, ages 13 to 16, will receive classroom instruction and participate in hands-on enrichment.

The Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI), located at the N.C. Research Campus, is partnering with Cabarrus STARS to provide three enrichment activities that will introduce culinary nutrition, offer a hands-on genetics lab and include the students in the search for new antibiotic compounds. According to U.S. Department of Labor 2012 statistics, minorities make up less than 5 percent of the STEM-based workforce. The programs offered by PHHI are examples of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) outreach that highlight the research efforts of PHHI faculty.

On July 27, Aubrey Mast, Extension associate in nutrition, led the students through the preparation of a Watermelon Blueberry Salsa. She will share the importance of fruits and vegetables in their daily diet, specifically how research from the Plants for Human Health Institute has shown that salsa ingredients can prevent disease or assist in disease management. The students will take home a recipe card encouraging them to experiment with mix and match ingredients to make their own unique fruit salsas.

On Aug. 3, N.C. State graduate student Weston Bussler will instruct the students in a simple DNA extraction experiment. Bussler has been a mentor to seven undergraduate interns this summer and is working on his doctorate in nutrition. Bussler says, “It is surprisingly easy to get a crude, but visible DNA sample out of strawberries and bananas, familiar fruits to these students. I think the students will enjoy the experience of discovering that for themselves and perhaps spark a greater interest in science and research.

On Aug. 5, Dr. Slavko Komernytsky, assistant professor in metabolic biology and pharmacogenomics, will share his Antibiotic Mobile Discovery Kit with the students. Using a low-cost bioassay kit, students test sample materials from their local environment for anti-bacterial properties. The results are photographed and submitted online to Komernytsky’s lab where they are evaluated for potential antibiotic properties.

Other enrichment activities during the STARS camp include basketball clinics, ropes courses, martial arts, computer technology, dance and music education and college preparation.

The Cabarrus STARS program, funded by a federal grant through the Minority Youth Violence Prevention program from the Office of Minority Health, aims to reduce school violence, bullying, school disciplinary referrals, suspension and expulsions, and improve academic achievement and increase positive encounters with law enforcement among minority male youth.

“There are so many personal experiences I can relate about the positive impact I have witnessed in these youth. Just one example is a high school participant, who once displayed defiant behaviors, now making a commitment to being a positive role model and ‘big brother’ to the rising ninth-graders in our program,” said Rolanda Patrick, Cabarrus STARS program coordinator with Cabarrus Health Alliance.