Biomedical Research Camp at U of A Helps Southeast Arkansan Middle School Students Connect to College

by | Nov 15, 2019 | Community, Events, Faces of Fulbright, Gifts, Outreach & Impact, Student Success

Thanks to a hands-on look at the world of biomedicine, nearly 20 more middle school students from Dumas and Gould, Arkansas are now considering education and career paths in S.T.E.A.M. – science, technology, engineering, math and the arts.

The potential future U of A students visited the University of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas for Medical Science (UAMS) over the summer, to learn more about the fields of biological science, biomedical engineering, exercise science and more.

The program, called the Biomedical Research Camp, is now in its fourth year and aims to build diversity among students who pursue S.T.E.A.M. career paths.

Tameka A. Bailey, a native of Gould and a research assistant professor of biological sciences in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, founded the annual week-long camp for middle school-aged children.

“The main goal of the Biomedical Research Camp is to encourage students to attend college,” Bailey said. “And we want to expose students to S.T.E.A.M. very early on to make them aware of the different options available to them.”

Bailey said the camp also added something new this year – male students. The initiative started as a girls’ camp, but Bailey and the other organizers wanted to see how the science-based opportunities would resonate with male students, too.  

Darron Thompson was one of this year’s first male camp participants. 

“I basically expected when you hear biomedical research you think it’s like doing research on cancer cells or doing surgery on frogs. I was really kind of scared to see what was going to happen,” he said. “Once I got here, the whole thing changed. They were telling me what science actually means, how biomedical research connections work, how the heart works, how your brain responds to your heart. The way they explain it, it made it easier to know what it actually was.”

While at the camp, Thompson and the other students also visited the U of A’s School of Art, where they worked with assistant professor of graphic design Ali Place to create an original campaign targeting pre-teens to engage in physical activity to improve their heart health. The students then toured the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Amazeum< in Bentonville.

They also spent time preparing for college admissions, learning about scholarships and funding options, and hearing from student and faculty success stories at UAMS. The students worked on building self-esteem with motivational speakers like DJ Derrick, and Adrian Smith who is originally from Rison, Arkansas and is now the U of A’s director of mentoring and leadership in the Center for Multicultural and Diversity Education.

Ariyian Randolph, a current undergraduate student from Dumas who is majoring in marketing at the U of A’s Sam M. Walton College of Business, also spoke with the students about how she was in their shoes not too long ago.

“It was really great for students to see a product of their hometown encouraging them,” Bailey said. “These are just very smart children, they really engaged in the science and in the camp experience. We hope they see themselves following in her footsteps.”

Additionally, the students worked with Hanna Jensen, clinical assistant professor of biomedical engineering, who led the campers in dissecting a pig heart as an introduction to cardiovascular physiology.

The students also visited Tyrone Washington, associate professor of exercise science, who led the campers through exercise physiology labs and talked about the importance of exercise for cardiovascular health. The campers put his lessons into practice during a workout at a boxing gym with undefeated champion Kalvin “Hot Sauce” Henderson.

The students then created research projects, conducted poster displays of their research, and participated in a science fair in Dumas at the end of the camp experience.

This year’s camp featured a wide range of collaborators and supporters from across campus, including Fulbright College and its Department of Biological Sciences and School of Art, the College of Engineering and its Department of Biomedical Engineering, the Sam M. Walton College of Business, the Office of Student Success, the Office of Faculty Development, and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion.

The camp program is primarily volunteer run, but Bailey hopes that if the camp can secure more funding in the future, the program can expand to accommodate more students and provide them with even more experiences and more staff to help.

“I really love working with the kids and seeing their faces not only when they realize they know something, but also when exploring new things,” said Laura Ellis, one of this year’s volunteers. 

Jodi Simeon, another of this year’s volunteers, agreed and said the students need the type of exposure the camp provides because, “then they think ‘I can be a doctor, I can be a researcher, I can be a scientist!’”

Simeon said that some of the most valuable experiences the students had were outside the classroom as well. This included guided tours around campus, going to the dining halls, and staying in the residence halls. 

“This helps the students envision themselves as college students,” Bailey said. “With that new frame of reference, the experience of going to college doesn’t seem so unattainable. It becomes a real, tangible, achievable goal to motivate students.”

Bailey said she hopes the experiences the students have at the Biomedical Research Camp last a lifetime and beyond.

“This experience is a seed that is planted that will keep growing,” Bailey said. “The gift of education never goes away. It is passed on from generation to generation. And the education that I received, I’m giving it to the next generation and these students will go back and share that with the community.”

“It’s important that you give back to your community and that you uplift others,” Bailey said.

For more information about the annual Biomedical Research Camp, or to make a year-end gift to support it, please give online now, or contact Fulbright College’s Office of Development and External Relations at 479-575-3712, or email fulbright@uark.edu.

Video Credit:
This video was made possible by and created by Synetra and Airic Hughes, of Visionairi.

Andra Parrish Liwag

Director of Communications, J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences 

479-575-4393 // liwag@uark.edu