After a 25 year long career in the construction industry, Art Doucette decided to go back to school to pursue a degree in chemistry and biology. One day while walking the California State University, Stanislaus campus Doucette crossed paths with a stranger — Viji Sundar, a professor in the Mathematics Department. The two began to talk and by the end of their conversation, Doucette decided on his career path: he would be a teacher as well as a summer instructor for Sundar’s Math and Science Summer Camp.
“She’s the reason I did this. You’ve got to have a passion and love for teaching and we connected on that,” said Doucette.
Fast forward 13 years and Doucette is still serving as a science instructor for Sundar’s three week academic summer camp, which has expanded to include over 85 students entering the 6 through 8 grades in its 25 year.
Initially made possible through a grant from the United States Department of Energy, Sundar reapplies for the grant each year and subsidizes costs through parent and local donations such as this year’s sponsors: the Stanislaus County Office of Education Foster Youth Services and the Migrant Education Program. While open to traditionally educated children for a cost, the Math and Science Summer Camp offers students with typically more transient educational experiences, such as those in Foster Care or the children of migrant workers, free access to a solid three weeks of educational fun. However, the camp also proves rewarding for the teachers, assistant teachers, and student facilitators or “shepherds.”
“Just like a scientist has a lab, that is what this is for teachers and potential teachers,” explained Sundar.
“I feel like after meeting these students of all different backgrounds and being on a different level with them has really changed my perspective. This program is not just an academic thing anymore. There’s long term impact,” added ‘shepherd’ Sienna Samra, a student at CSU Stanislaus.
What Sundar has called “truly a labor of love” the academic camp offers students a thorough and diverse introduction into the subjects of math and science through interactive activities. Students build solar powered cars; learn geometry and aerodynamics through kite construction; study the economics of purchasing land and tools before panning for gold; discover the mind body connection through nutrition, brain wave exercises and yoga; as well as hone research and computer skills among many other activities.
“These are project-based problems that we want them to solve,” explained Sundar. “With the new Common Core State Standards it’s important for the students to be able to draw connections and understand the context of why they are doing what they are doing.”
On top of the academic benefits, the camp also offers students an opportunity to meet new friends, practice classroom etiquette as well as communication skills. While each student’s aptitude and interests may vary, there is one common denominator throughout the Math and Science Summer Camp that brings everyone together: the power of knowledge.
“Every kid can learn. No matter their intelligence or background. Every kid can learn and we’re here to inspire them,” said Doucette.