The Lamar University College of Education and Human Development will host the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp from June 14-26. The free residential camp serves incoming sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students who excel in mathematics and science. Forty-eight students are participating in this year’s camp.

“The goal of the camp is to address the national science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) crisis,” said Otilia Urbina, assistant professor of professional pedagogy and camp program director. “The program stimulates and supports interests in STEM subjects, as well as providing participants with the tools and skills necessary to pursue post-secondary educational careers in STEM fields.”

This program was founded by Bernard Harris Jr., an astronaut and the first African American to walk in space, and focuses on STEM-based curriculum to reinforce critical thinking skills and reduce summer learning loss.  Harris will make a personal visit to the camp on June 19 to encourage students to continue their studies and enter the STEM fields.

Harris was at NASA for ten years, where he conducted research in musculoskeletal physiology and disuse osteoporosis. He conducted clinical investigations of space adaptation and developed in-flight medical devices to extend astronaut stays in space.  Selected into the Astronaut Corp in January 1990, Harris was a mission specialist on the space shuttle Columbia in 1993.  As payload commander on space shuttle Discovery in 1995, he served on the first flight of the joint Russian-American Space Program. A veteran astronaut for more than twenty years, he has logged more than 438 hours and traveled more than seven million miles in space.

“Lamar University is making an effort to address the STEM crisis by providing camps for students in Southeast Texas so that, through exposure and participation with real world, hands-on, best practice activities, they will possibly pursue careers in these fields,” Urbina said. “Research has stated that engaging students at an early age is crucial because it leaves an impression in their minds.”

Lamar is one of 20 universities which partner with the Harris Foundation and ExxonMobil to host Bernard Harris Summer Science Camps. Of the 20 camps across the nation, Lamar’s camp is ranked first. This will be the ninth year Lamar has hosted the program.

“It’s highly competitive,” Urbina said. “Lamar is very fortunate to have this very prestigious program here on campus. We get a lot of support, and that’s what brings the strength to what we do, along with the community.”

One of the many activities the students will participate in is the “Mars Landing Challenge,” for which students will design a prototype of a shock-absorbing system for a spacecraft using household items and materials. The landers will be tested for accuracy and safety by dropping them onto a target area and analyzing the results.  Other activities include animation technology, robotics technology and nutrition.

Many activities in the program center around the camp’s theme, “Biodiversity: The Spice of Life.”

“We have beautiful ecosystems, but we’re surrounded with industry,” Urbina said. “Because we’re experiencing a boom and more and more industries are moving in, we have to be able to develop a courtship, and we have to be able to develop stewards of the environment to survive. We need to be able to educate a population that’s going to protect the environment.”

The program’s partners are Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center in Orange, The Big Thicket National Preserve in Kountze and the Texas A&M AgriLIFE Research Center at Beaumont/Eagle Lake. Each of the partners offers the students hands-on activities which emphasize the importance of nature, wildlife, and the environment.

“These partners are experts in their respective areas,” Urbina said. “Our students go and spend the whole day with them. They rub shoulders with some of the smartest researchers in the world. The students really get some good exposure, and this is the reason we get such good results. At the end, they say, ‘I want to be a scientist.’”

For more information on the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp, contact Otilia Urbina at or Becky Broussard at