Summer camp gives high school students chance to explore geoscience

By Joel Delgado ’12, MS ’17

When a group of high school students participated in a geocaching exercise, using GPS devices and clues to locate hidden packages scattered around Modesto A. Maidique Campus, Adrian Elkind was well-prepared for the challenge.

Elkind, who is about to begin his senior year at Felix Varela Senior High, downloaded a geocaching app on the first day of the FIU Geoscience Experience – a two-week camp designed to help high school students to gain a better understanding of geosciences.

Afterward, he went geocaching on his own, giving him some field experience and an advantage over his peers. So it came as little surprise when Elkind and his group found all eight packages hidden around campus before the other groups.

The geocaching exercise was one of many different activities throughout the two-week camp that helped 18 high school students experience the fun side of geoscience, which studies the physical aspects of Earth, such as its composition, structure and processes.

“Instead of sitting inside we’re going out and doing stuff, getting a chance to experience the field in the real world,” Elkind said. “Every day is a new experience with something different to do.”

Jennifer Gebelein (second from left) explains how to use GPS devices for geocaching.

Jennifer Gebelein (second from left) explains how to use GPS devices for geocaching.

The camp was created last year as part of the “Growing Community Roots for the Geosciences in Miami, Florida” project – a two-year pilot program designed to get local middle and high school students excited about educational and career opportunities in the geosciences as well as build recruitment pathways for underrepresented groups to university geoscience degree programs.

During the camp, the students visited a limestone quarry, a waste-to-energy conversion facility and toured the Wall of Wind at the Engineering Campus, giving them the opportunity to see the many of the real-world applications of geoscience.

“We’re trying to show them that it is possible to have fun with science,” said Jennifer Gebelein, an FIU professor and physical geographer. “A lot of times, the sciences can appear to be so intimidating that students don’t even start. We want them to start with an attitude that they can do this.”

Joshua Paulus, a homeschooled sophomore, is still a few years away from making a decision on what to study when he goes to college. But the camp opened the eyes to the geosciences and the opportunities available in the field.

“You don’t know until you start getting involved with it,” Paulus said. “No matter what I choose to do in the future, this was definitely a great experience because it opened my eyes to the geosciences field.”

For Gebelein, the camp is a great opportunity to teach and work with high school students as they prepare to make decisions about their future.

“One of the reasons I love teaching is that I love to inspire students to love science,” Gebelein said. “You can do a lot of adventuring through science and research. It’s not all dusty books and Excel spreadsheets.”