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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Young Scientists Learn and Explore at ODU BLAST STEM Camp

By Brendan O'Hallarn

The breadth of Old Dominion's multidisciplinary faculty research and outreach was on display during a program jointly hosted by the University and the Virginia Space Grant Consortium.

ODU BLAST (Building Leaders Advancing Science and Technology) attracted 80 rising ninth- and 10th-grade students to campus from across the Commonwealth earlier this summer to explore how best to understand and address climate change and sea level rise resilience.

Designed and directed by Cynthia Tomovic, professor of STEM education and professional studies; Vukica Jovanovic, assistant professor of engineering technology; and Elizabeth Smith, interdisciplinary initiatives coordinator with Academic Affairs, the intensive three-day program exposed students to the many intersecting research projects tackling sea level rise and recurrent flooding resilience.

The camp was one of four sponsored across the state through financial support from the Virginia Space Grant Consortium.

Students slept in residence halls for two nights and experienced three days packed with events teaching them how to survive, and even thrive, in the era of sea level rise and climate change.

The students covered topics such as the impact of light on the earth's temperatures and the consequences of water runoff. They also conducted experiments in ocean warming and gathered data on risks posed by flooding and sea level rise.

In addition to exposing middle and high school students to Old Dominion's research into sea level rise resilience and adaptation, the camp encouraged them to consider STEM-related majors when they move on to college.

Terri Mathews, associate dean of the College of Sciences, welcomed students and challenged them to think about the importance of STEM careers to address the issues of climate change and sea level rise.

David Burdige, professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences, and Michelle Covi, assistant professor of practice with the Office of Research, facilitated a discussion about the film "Our Living Climate," which reviews the historical and recent causes for slow, rapid and sometimes violent changes in the earth's climate.

Balsa Terzic, assistant professor of physics, and Justin Mason, director of the Pretlow Planetarium, hosted "Our Home Planet and Its Place in the Cosmos," a presentation that investigated the impact of infrared light and its role in the creation of greenhouse gases.

Mujde Erten-Unal, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, facilitated "Water Water Everywhere and No Place to Go," a workshop exploring ways to deal with storm runoff to combat flooding and improve the quality of drinking water.

George Mcleod, director of geospatial and visualization systems at Old Dominion, presented "Satellites Lasers and Drones," in which students gathered geospatial data and observed the use of drones to collect more data. The goal: to create maps to better identify areas of vulnerability and communicate risks posed by flooding and sea level rise.

The camp included special events as well. Jenifer Alonzo, associate professor of communication and theatre arts, led "Rockets to the Rescue," a team-building exercise to demonstrate the importance of collaboration in solving problems.

Victoria Hill, research associate professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences, discussed her excursions to the Arctic to research climate change, leading an exercise that demonstrated the logistical difficulty of living in climates with temperatures well below zero.

Jane Bray, dean of the Darden College of Education, and student success counselor Adrienne Giles encouraged students to recognize the importance of their high school efforts to prepare for STEM programs at the college or university level.

For more information, including photos of each workshop and event of the three-day camp, see the ODU BLAST website.

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