Bernard Harris, MD, the first African American astronaut to walk in space, inspired middle schoolers at NJIT yesterday to pursue careers in science, technology engineering and math by detailing what it really was like to be an astronaut and live in space. The 54 campers, all enrolled at the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp, sat spellbound for more than an hour as the medical doctor, an internist by training, recounted what was needed to be successful.
Harris, a veteran of two space missions, detailed life for two weeks in space from the feeling of walking in a space suit to how to sleep when night lasts only 45 minutes. (Special shades are used.) Inquisitive minds peppered him with questions from showering to bathroom use while wearing a space suit.
This is the fourth year that NJIT has served as one of 30 locations throughout the nation to host this camp. It is the only location in the New York Metropolitan area for the free, two-week residential camp which runs through July 22, 2010.
This year’s theme was “a toy story: motion on earth and in space."
Harris, of Houston, earlier in the day observed a lesson explaining Archimedes’ principle of buoyancy. An experiment during which student teams built straw and tin rafts and then competed to determine the most buoyant one. The winning team members were Jonathon Butler, Teaneck; Benjamin Hsueh, Franklin Park; Natalie Thompson, Hillsborough; Sharon Reitz, Kearny.
NJIT awarded Harris an honorary doctor of science in 2009.
Highlights from Harris’ talk included the following:
• Youngsters were encouraged to plan early for careers. “It’s always better to know earlier what you want to do, than later,” he said. Earning potential is entirely different for college versus non-college grads, he emphasized often.
• The U.S. faces a critical shortage filling spots for engineers, scientists and other mathematics- and science-literate workers. “Many practicing engineers are nearing retirement and not enough students are pursuing related degrees,” he said.
• There is a dire need for role models in the sciences, a job he hopes to fill with talks such as these. He told youngsters that watching John Glenn’s famous 1969 walk on the moon set his sights on becoming an astronaut. “I’m here to tell you, if you dream it, you can do it,” he repeated several times.
• So how do you go the bathroom while wearing a moonsuit? “Well, you must wear these extra-large diapers,” he said.
• Showering on a space flight is no picnic: Water turns into gel which one must move around the body in a globular ball.
• Sleep is difficult because traveling 18,000 miles an hour means circling the earth in 90 minutes. That translates into 45 minutes of darkness versus 45 minutes of sun as each day passes. Astronauts must live on their own special time.
The residential camp offers a first-hand experience with experiments, role models and innovative programs to encourage continued participation in math and science courses in school. Additionally, their leadership potential and citizenship skills are fostered along with abilities to work in teams and think creatively, while spending two weeks in a college campus environment. The ultimate goal is to raise awareness of career possibilities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“NJIT is proud to be part of this extraordinary camp experience,” said Suzanne Berliner-Heyman. “We’re not only providing two weeks on our campus, but developing the next generation of creative thinkers and inventors.”
Unlike most summer camps, there is no fee required to attend the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp. Young people who are academically qualified, recommended by their teachers and genuinely interested in math and science can be rewarded with the opportunity to attend at no cost. Harris said that about 250 applications are received for every 50 spots.
Students attend daily classes in natural science, engineering, mathematics and technology, taught by faculty from NJIT and area school districts. Activities include classroom study, experiments, group projects, weekly field excursions and guest speakers who motivate the students into fulfilling their dreams.
Students who attended were:
New Jersey: Liam McCabe, Closter; Jenny Lee, Cresskill; Vraj Shah, Edison; Savion Simon, Ewing; Natalie Thompson, Hillsborough; Joy Jack, Hillside; Lauren Sullivan, Kathleen Sullivan, and Elliana Clermont, Jersey City; Jane Amadeo, Tanuj Desai, Darwin Recalde, and Sharon Reitz, Kearny; Justin Tang, Marlboro; Sahiti Seetamraju, Dayton; Aleah Butler-Jones, Orange; Leslie Templeton, Montclair; Sarah Acolatse, Nyzir Jeffries, Himaayah Agwedicham, Chariese Dean, Kaothar Oladoja, Oluwatobi Olajobi, Mercy Olajobi, and Mariamu Olumbe, Newark; Nisarg Shah, North Bergen; Rithika D’Souza, North Brunswick; Minsu Kim, Northvale; Abraham Duncan, South Orange; Bum-Shik Kim, Palisades Park; Jeffrey Okudah, Parsippany; Sylvia Basauri, Paterson; Erixen Cruz, Pennington; Melanie Williams, East Orange; Robert Stephens, Zachary Krommie, and Jordan Pettawy, Roselle; Kris Guru and Shaun Guru, Franklin Park; Benjamin Hsueh, Somerset; Dominique Toney, Stanhope; Daniella Carter, Landing; Jonathan Butler and Courtney Davenport, Teaneck; Jennifer Baik, Tenafly; Anuj Modi, Union; Nikita Patel, Wallington; Timothy Jones and Gerardo Salas, West Orange.
New York: Derek Cano, Bellmawr; Braym Diaz and Abdou Niang, Bronx; Cheyenne Hua, Bayside; Gloria Ngan, Hartsdale.
The ExxonMobil Foundation is the primary philanthropic arm of the Exxon Mobil Corporation in the U.S. The Foundation and the Corporation engage in a range of philanthropic activities that advance education, health and science in the communities where ExxonMobil has significant operations.
Founded in 1998, The Harris Foundation is a 501 (c) (3), non-profit organization based in Houston with a mission to invest in initiatives to support education, health and wealth.