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Tuesday, June 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Summer Science Popular Math And Science Camp Catering To Girls And Minorities Emphasizes Fun And Fascination

Amy Urann went into the stretch, wound up and hurled a baseball with all her might.

The ball hit its target with a “Pow!”

Urann wasn’t showing off her arm at a summer sports camp. This was done in the name of science. Her target, a cardboard box filled with construction paper, slid across a classroom tabletop.

Urann and 29 other kids at a math and science camp at Gonzaga University learned about the laws of nature through activities and experiments, rather than by listening to lectures or reading.

This lesson: For every action there is a reaction.

Judging by the reactions of these kids, the five-year-old math and science camp is a hit.

“It’s so much fun,” said Urann, who will start her freshman year at Mount Saint Michael Academy on Spokane’s North Side in the fall. “Experiments make you learn more than just lectures.”

When the balls stopped flying, Urann and the other students measured the distances the boxes had moved 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.

Gail Nord, assistant math professor at Gonzaga, has been running the free camp for high school students for five years.

Camp started July 14 and concludes Friday. A camp for middle school students was held at the beginning of July.

The program targets girls and students of color, although all students are welcome. Nord said she specifically recruits girls and students of color because these groups are still underrepresented in math and the sciences.

“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 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 money well is practically empty, Nord said.

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

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

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

One of the highlights of the summer camp is that students get a chance to work on college-grad 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 Shriners Hospital.

Rachel Alt and Jenny Thompson, both students at Shadle Park High School, said the camp keeps them from getting lazy during the summer.

“It keeps your mind thinking, and you don’t forget what you learned during the school year,” Thompson said.

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

John Nord, Gail’s husband and a math teacher at St. George’s School, works as a volunteer instructor at the camp, along with St. George’s colleague Jori Bowen.

“It’s a laid back way to learn,” John Nord said.

“It’s summertime, the weather is nice, and it’s a perfect time to be outside to teach and learn. I think they’re almost more receptive to learning when the weather is nice,” he said.

Gail Nord admitted that it has been difficult for her to chart whether past camp attendees have gone on to pursue math and science careers.

“So many of them move from one place to another,” Nord said. “Follow-up can be hard, but I need to do a better job of tracking and following up with them. That has been my weak spot.”

But if everyone this year feels like Jennifer Eirls of North Central High School, Nord may not have far to go to find this bunch in the future.

Eirls said she plans on returning next year.

“I’ve always liked science and math,” Eirls said. “But I really like the way it’s done here.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 photos (2 color)

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