Teaching & Learning

USU Undergrads Mentor High Schoolers at Science & Engineering Summer Camp

USU STARS! GEAR UP hosts teens from throughout Utah for hands-on research learning

By Mary-Ann Muffoletto |

USU Computer Science undergrad Canyon Bryson, center, helps participants in USU STARS! GEAR UP's Biology Camp assemble a bioreactor. Bryson was awarded an URCO grant to develop activities for the teen campers. (M. Muffoletto photo)

Utah State University undergraduate Canyon Bryson put a lot of thought into two seemingly disparate STEM activities designed to introduce high school students to basic science and engineering concepts.

What, exactly, do constructing a prosthetic hand and assembling a bioreactor have in common?

“They seem very different, but they’re actually based on similar principles, including building an electrical circuit,” says the computer science major. “And that’s what makes them so cool.”

Bryson was among 11 Aggies assisting Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry faculty member Ryan Jackson in leading the 2022 USU STARS! GEAR UP Biology and Engineering Science Camp June 6-7 for about 20 teens from high schools throughout Utah. Jackson and his students conducted life sciences activities for one section of students, while faculty and students from USU’s College of Engineering led engineering activities focused on rockets and payload design for an additional group of about 30 camp participants.

GEAR UP is an acronym for the U.S. Department of Education’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, a nationwide effort to prepare low-income students to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. USU STARS! (Science Technology Arithmetic Reading Students), coordinated by USU’s Center for the School of the Future in the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, is among the national network of GEAR UP groups awarded grant funding to support programming in partner schools.

Jackson is among USU faculty members who help to lead learning activities at USU STARS! partner schools during the school year, along with recruiting and mentoring college students to aid the effort.

“It’s a rewarding partnership that doesn’t take up a lot of my time,” he says. “And the summer camp? It’s really my undergrads running the show.”

Bryson was awarded a USU Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities (URCO) grant to develop his activities for the 2022 camp.

“I searched for ideas that I thought would be both challenging and fun,” he says. “The next step was making sure all the instructions and supplies were ready to go.”

With a portion of his URCO grant funds, Bryson gathered supplies to build the bioreactors and, on his own, used a 3D printer to prepare the segments for each prosthetic hand.

“It was the most cost-effective way and I learned a lot from it,” he says.

Fellow undergrad team member Alivia Jolley says getting ready to mentor a group of teens requires a lot of thinking about the science behind each experiment.

“Sometimes you have to simplify the steps and avoid too much information,” says the molecular and cellular biology major. “On the other hand, you want to make sure you explain the importance of the science involved in each project to make it a worthwhile learning experience.”

Jolley says the teen camp participants were “deeper thinkers” than she expected.

“They’re very self-motivated with a high interest level,” she says. “They’re excited about science, so they make all of us mentors excited about science, too.”

In addition to Bryson and Jolley, mentor scholars assisting Jackson with the camp included graduate student Abbie Wright, recent USU graduates Nicole Cevering, Sharie Howell, Emma Lindley and Kai Nethercott, current USU undergraduates Joshua Baugh, Brad Findley and Tanner Maerz, along with Ridgeline High School student Caitlin Radovan.

“We also had some faculty guest appearances, including Sara Freeman from the Department of Biology, who let students hold an actual human brain, and Sean Johnson from Chemistry and Biochemistry, who took the campers through a cutting-edge x-ray crystallography experiment,” Jackson says.

Biology major Alivia Jolley, second from right, guides teen summer camp participants in constructing a prosthetic hand from 3D-printed parts. High school students from throughout Utah took part in the June 6-7 gathering. (M. Muffoletto photo)


Mary-Ann Muffoletto
Public Relations Specialist
College of Science


Ryan Jackson
Assistant Professor
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry


STEM 90stories

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