Friday, May 25, 2018
Education

USF camp immerses gifted high schoolers in STEM studies

TAMPA — The students clustered around a DNA sequencer for an experiment called "Who's Your Daddy?" It was a paternity test, something you'd see in less academic terms on daytime TV if you got to stay home and eat Doritos all summer.

These teenagers did not stay home. They came to spend summer at the University of South Florida, immersing themselves in science, technology, engineering and math, or "STEM" — one of the hottest buzzwords in education as schools seek to boost the ranks of students in those fields. Saying it is one thing. Making students fall in love with an acronym is another.

The DNA shone neon through something like clear Jell-O. It was starting to separate.

"That is the coolest thing," said Megan Makela, 16. "Everything is the coolest thing."

Standing quietly observing the students was a 78-year-old professor in spectacles. Manoug Manougian knew bright kids don't flourish without true trial. He was one of them, too.

• • •

The STEM Education Center has been at USF for decades. In years past, high school students in USF's summer program didn't stay overnight, and they came mostly from local districts. The term STEM didn't exist, but the point was the same.

This year, the STEM Research for Scholars program through USF's Pre-College has been fashioned into a select sleep-away camp for gifted high school kids from all over the country. Just 21 made the cut. They are in the top 10 percent, preferably top 5 percent of their classes. Each paid $3,800, some with scholarships, to spend four weeks at USF.

There's Makela, who at 16 has researched chemotherapy-induced cognitive changes. She was here from Destin, in part, to scope out USF for the future.

Dahlya Katz, 17, chose camp over a summer in Israel and Italy. When she blew curfew, she said, her parents threatened to withhold USF. She cried for four days.

Changseob Lim, 17, moved to New York from Korea five years ago and had no visa to get a summer job. Might as well go learn advanced 3-D visualization.

They'll examine mutated fruit flies, extract DNA from their own cheeks, visit the Kennedy Space Center. They'll write college-level research papers. Examples from last summer: "Theoretical Analysis of Mathematical Models on Electrospinning Mechanics"; "The Effect of the Force of Drag on Artificial Earth Satellites."

Manougian, director of the STEM Education Center and USF faculty since 1968, is passionate about all students, especially those poised for success. He knows they can't afford to get bored.

He was born in Jerusalem, an Armenian surrounded by fighting. To escape, his mother pulled him out of school and took him to Jericho. There, he read Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon. He became entranced with rockets, latitude, space.

Manougian formed the Lebanese Rocket Society at Haigazian University in the 1960s, sending projectiles into Middle Eastern skies. The educational club was disbanded and later rediscovered by a documentary filmmakers whose film about Manougian's club was shown at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival.

He regales students with stories of his youth. He relates math and science to everything. Want to be a ballerina? Learn geometry. A painter? Learn to calculate. Want to build a rocket? I did, and so you can you.

• • •

By 10:30 a.m., the students were studying the spread of disease. They rolled a die to see who was healthy, sick or dead. There were four vaccines.

Who should get them? The elderly? The young? Adults?

"This program is so important to me," Manougian whispered, sitting in the back of class. "The future of this country is going to depend on these bright kids. If we don't pay attention to them, we're missing out on an important segment of our society."

Manougian slipped out of the room. Katz, in skinny jeans and a wrist band that said TAYLOR SWIFT, burst into a Swift song. Then, like a switch, she burst into scientific reason with a strategy for the vaccine.

"We should give it to the kids," she told the teacher. "Because they're going to live longer and they can repopulate."

Comments
Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

ST. PETERSBURG — An Eckerd College student who was critically injured last weekend during an accidental fall on campus shortly before she was to graduate died today, the school announced.Rebecca Ryan "Becca" Lavin-Burgher would have graduated with a ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

The stares and whispers started on the first day of school more than two years ago, when Liv Funk and Hailey Smith silently declared their relationship in the halls of North Bend High School by holding hands.They knew coming out would be hard in the ...
Published: 05/24/18
What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

CLINTON, N.Y. — In the days after her son Graham hanged himself in his dormitory room at Hamilton College, Gina Burton went about settling his affairs in a blur of efficiency, her grief tinged with a nagging sense that something did not add up.She fi...
Published: 05/24/18
Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County came closer on Wednesday to reaching an agreement with the school district that would give them most, but not all of the pay they expected this past year.The deal, if it happens, will end a year-long conflict t...
Published: 05/23/18
Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

NEW PORT RICHEY — The line snaked through the hallways and into the cafeteria, as the Ridgewood High faithful waited for their chance to secure a piece of the school’s 40-year history.They came by the hundreds — current and former students, staff and...
Published: 05/23/18
Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

TAMPA — The pain of the Parkland shootings Feb. 14 was fresh on the minds of Hillsborough County’s graduating seniors when about 300 of them received an assignment. Write a 250-word essay on how decades of school shootings have touched y...
Published: 05/23/18
Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

WEEKI WACHEE — A 16-year-old was arrested Tuesday on allegations that she created a fake social media post threatening to shoot students at Weeki Wachee High School, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said the 16-year-old told...
Published: 05/22/18
Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers’ union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday’s negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.The teachers, who have spent this school year work...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18
Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school leaders call it courtesy busing, but to Lauren Hawkins it’s more a matter of life and death.More students living close to their schools in the Westchase community used the Hillsborough school district’s courtesy bus...
Published: 05/21/18
Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

A day after England’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, St. Petersburg hosted a royal celebration of its own. Among the estimated 500 graduates to receive an Eckerd College diploma at Sunday’s graduation ceremony held...
Published: 05/20/18
Updated: 05/21/18