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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Teens Tackle Global Warming and Sea-Level Rise Using STEAM-H at ODU BLAST

By Betsy Hnath

For most students, the college experience begins after high school graduation. But about 80 rising ninth- and 10th-graders from across the Commonwealth recently got an early taste of university life at the ODU BLAST (Building Leaders Advancing Science and Technology) camp. It was the fourth BLAST program the University has hosted in three years.

During the three-day program, sponsored with support from the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, students explored a variety of topics, all relating to STEAM-H (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Health). They included the impacts of infrared light on atmospheric warming; managing water runoff; building and testing robots used in hazardous environments; creating maps that identify vulnerable areas to flooding, and building and flying drones as alternative transportation under conditions of environmental threat.

Other BLAST programs will be at Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia later in the summer. About 1,000 students apply for the 300 spaces available among the three university programs, which are free.

Mary Sandy, director of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, said pairing with ODU made sense.

"Where at the other universities it might be focused on only engineering or one specific science, at ODU the children have the opportunity to explore climate change and all of the support science and engineering that goes with it," Sandy said. "And the faculty here are unbelievably dedicated to these students. They've been amazing."

Classes were divided into small groups and split by gender.

"We've noticed that when we split the girls from the boys, the girls feel freer to participate. Sometimes the boys can dominate the classroom," said Cynthia Tomovic, ODU BLAST director and professor of STEM education and professional studies in the Darden College of Education.

For Riddick Ammons, a rising ninth-grader from Chesapeake, ODU BLAST is one of several camps he'll be attending at the University this summer. He developed a love of building playing Tinker Toys with his grandfather and plans to be a mechanical engineer.

"I like ODU's dorms, the food, and I like the classrooms," he said. "And the projects are amazing. I really like BLAST. I'm learning so much. I'm excited to come back. I think I'll be here three more weeks for engineering camps this summer."

Though the students focused on science and engineering, Tomovic incorporated representatives from six University Colleges when creating the curriculum. In all, she recruited the help of more than 30 ODU faculty, students and staff for BLAST.

"Environmental threats will require solutions from every area," Tomovic said. "Whether it's cybersecurity, entrepreneurship or the arts, we will all need to combine efforts. By asking people from different areas of campus to participate in the program, kids can see that you don't have to be only in physics, chemistry or engineering to make an impact."

In addition to exposing middle and high school students to Old Dominion's research on sea level rise resilience and adaptation, the program encouraged them to consider STEAM-H-related majors when they move on to college.

For more information, including photos of each workshop and event of the three-day program, see the BLAST website or ODU BLAST's Facebook page.

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