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Academy seeks to grow W.Va. scientists

July 30, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Students from across West Virginia got up to their knees in the fun of science during the past week to test the waters of possibility at the Health Sciences and Technology Academy (HSTA).

Open to qualifying students entering ninth grade, the academy engages select West Virginia teenagers in scientific disciplines. In exchange, their college tuition is waived.

Shepherd University was one of five institutions across the state to host the 2009 summer camp, said Darlene Stradwick, HSTA field site coordinator. It was the first camp hosted at Shepherd.

Stradwick said HSTA aims to increase the number of health and science professionals in West Virginia by offering tuition waivers at state colleges and universities for students who participate in the four-year academy throughout their high school careers.

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West Virginia does not have as many scientists as it needs, said Jason Best, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Shepherd University and academic coordinator for the 2009 summer camp.

"There is great need in America, and especially in West Virginia, for a scientifically literate populous," Best said. "Science belongs to the people."

HSTA opens students' minds to understand and appreciate science and mathematics, he said.

It also fosters understanding with multicultural activities and participant diversity.

Aided by their high school science teachers, the students sloshed in Shepherdstown's murky town run for four days, performing aquatic experiments. They also performed physical science experiments in the classroom.

"These students are not playing at science," Best said. "They are doing actual science."

The students who attended summer camp at Shepherd have great potential, said Trina Elliott, a biology teacher at Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School.

Ed Snyder, professor of environmental studies at Shepherd, agreed, saying the HSTA students performed experiments as accurately as his university students.

Best said the academy nurtures potential.

"We want to turn their potential into something kinetic," he said. "To show them that they can turn possible into probable into actual."

Devon Brown, a high school freshman from Charleston, W.Va., said before coming to camp this week, he never realized how "cool" science could be.

"I never knew it was so interesting," he said. "The experiments in particular are great. I will probably remember what I learned here for a long time."

While HSTA is a scientific academy, the students who participate are not required to become scientists, Stradwick said.

Some such as Kydesha Bell of Martinsburg have other plans. Bell said she wants to either be a lawyer or a detective.

The summer camp included multicultural classes and field trips to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and the Smithsonian Institution. It will conclude today with a presentation of analysis by the students.

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