Summer Heats up With a Multitude of Science Initiatives at MCLA


 NORTH ADAMS, MASS. - Multiple science-related initiatives are underway this summer at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA). They include the College's First Annual Undergraduate Research Institute, as well as the Second Annual STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy, which will include a presentation by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut Catherine "Cady" Coleman, Ph.D.

According to Dr. Monica Joslin, dean of academic affairs, the Undergraduate Research Institute builds on planning work done by members of MCLA's Undergraduate Research Program faculty several years ago under the leadership of psychology professor Dr. Maria Bartini and biology professor Dr. Ann Billetz, as part of a Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) workshop.

"Undergraduate research provides students with multiple benefits such as sharpening of critical thinking and problem solving skills, and promotes a culture of innovation," Joslin said. "It's an opportunity for our students to focus on research on a full-time basis, and work in close contact with a faculty mentor."

The projects, to be completed by the end of the summer, will be presented at next year's Undergraduate Research Conference at MCLA. These collaborations of four faculty members and five students include a project in conjunction with Nuclea Biotechnologies, a computer science project on machine learning to find patterns in biological data, an assessment of embryonic learning and response to chemical stimuli inside Zebrafish eggs, and a "Chemical Graph Theory Research" project.

MCLA also is working with nearby community colleges on another new program, "413 STEM ready," to be held July 21-25. This program will prepare students from Berkshire, Holyoke and Greenfield community colleges for the STEM fields. It will include a residential experience on campus, as well as STEM major and career explorations.

MCLA's Second Annual STEM Academy will be held Aug. 3-7. The five-day program is designed for incoming freshmen who plan to major in science or math, or who are interested in those majors. They attend classes in chemistry, physics, biology and math to get a taste of the type of work they'll be doing as science majors, and discover what faculty love about their field.

At the Academy, the students also will work with "STEM Academy Fellows" - current or recently graduated MCLA science students - on skills they'll need to be successful; such as time management, organization, and ways to help them study and prepare for classes.

Also this summer, MCLA is working with educators from North Adams Public Schools (NAPS) in "Teaching to Learn" to design and implement a set of experiences to support college interns -two each from MCLA and Williams College - as they create science units for specific topics and grades. These units will be implemented this fall in area elementary schools.

"These college students are working on the next generation of science curriculum, based on the new science standards," Joslin said.

According to Dr. Nick Stroud, assistant professor of science/technology education at MCLA, the interns are working independently, but with the support of elementary school teachers, college faculty and other NAPS staff.

Other science-related activity this summer at MCLA includes two science-based camps for youth - one in computer programming and the other in science and robotics.

The three-day computer programming camp, for youths in grades 5-7, will be held July 29-31.

In addition to teaching programming skills, the computer programming camp will build on the campers' general teamwork and problem solving skills. Camp activities will include team building exercises, problem-solving activities and programming lessons. Campers also will be introduced to computer programming using Scratch, Alice, Visual Studio and Java.

The five-day science and robotics camp for students in grades 6-9 will take place July 21-25.
This science and robotics camp is for girls and boys with an interest in science and robotics. Campers will use Lego Mindstorm, RCX and NXTs to create robots. Other activities will include rocket building and launching, and a trip to "outer space" in the Starlab.

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