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Thursday, May 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Camp’s Big Equalizer Is Fun Math, Science Games Lure Women, Minority Students

Maria Montague went into the stretch, reached back and hurled a baseball with all her might.

Pow! … the sound of the ball hitting its target.

The Sandpoint High School senior wasn’t showing off her arm at a summer baseball or softball camp at Gonzaga University. This was all done in the name of science.

Montague’s target was a cardboard box loaded with construction paper.

She, along with Sandpoint sophomore Kat Murray, and 28 other youths attending a math and science camp at the college got to see and demonstrate a law of nature and not have it lectured to them.

The lesson: For every action there is a reaction.

And judging by the reactions of these kids, the 5-year-old math and science camp still is popular.

Montague and Murray attend the camp targeted at girls and students of color almost everyday. They don’t mind having to be in Spokane every morning by 9.

“These are the kinds of activities that you don’t get to do in school,” Murray said. “It’s a fun way to learn.”

As Montague’s box slid across a classroom table, golf balls, handballs and other balls were hurled at more boxes in the room.

One boy had an arm so strong he chucked a baseball through a box. He turned out to be a college baseball player home for the summer. Needless to say, the results of his experiment were thrown out.

When the balls stopped flying, students measured the distances the boxes traveled across the table after impact. That distance and the weight of the box were multiplied and then divided by the weight of the ball.

The final figures showed the kids just how much effort it took to move the boxes.

Gonzaga assistant math professor Gail Nord runs the camp for students in the Inland Northwest.

The free camp started July 14 and concludes Aug. 1. A similar program for middle school students was held at the beginning of July. The high school camp runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday at Gonzaga’s Herak Center.

Women and students of color - groups still grossly under-represented in math and science professions - are encouraged to participate. However, no student is turned away.

“People say to me, ‘Well, it’s because women aren’t good in math, or women don’t like math,”’ Nord said. “I don’t believe that. I’ve never believed that.”

Nord said her position at the college is proof to the students that women and minorities can have successful careers in such fields.

Nord received a $5,000 grant from Hewlett-Packard in Spokane to cover the cost of supplies, snacks and transportation for students who are bused to the Gonzaga campus.

Students don’t receive high school or college credit for attending.

The middle school camp got a $15,000 grant from The Alcoa Foundation. Federal grants funded the camp in previous years, but that source has all but dried up, Nord said.

“Federal money ran out last year,” she said. “A lot of programs like this were wiped out across the country.” She said “Gonzaga connections” helped secure funding this year.

Ozzie Wilkinson, the public affairs manager at Northwest Alloys Inc., in Addy, Wash.; Carol Bonino, Gonzaga’s Foundation director; and Jodi Zellner a representative at Hewlett-Packard, all helped Nord secure the grant.

“Corporate money is so hard to get,”Nord said. “You need a connection. You just can’t show up on somebody’s doorstep with papers and ask for help. We had friends of the university help us out.”

The grant money has provided the students a chance to use equipment and hardware that isn’t available at the high school and middle school levels.

The Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement, supported by the Washington State University branch in Spokane, helped Nord recruit summer camp students during last year’s academic calendar.

One of the highlights of the summer camp is that students get a chance to work on graduate-level software called “Mathematica.”

Other projects entailed students making their own kites to study aerodynamics and air resistance. Students also took field trips to Fairchild Air Force Base and the Shriner’s Hospital.

Montague said she has brought some of her friends over from Sandpoint to the camp.

“It’s kind of funny because some of those friends are people who don’t even like school,” Montague said. “But this isn’t like that. You learn, but it’s fun.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos

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