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CampBioE Continues to Reach Diverse Audiences and Help Undergraduates Gain a New Educational Perspective

PITTSBURGH (November 12, 2018) … Since 2007, the University of Pittsburgh Department of Bioengineering has been addressing deficiencies in youth STEM education by offering CampBioE, an immersive summer program for middle and high school students. The program continues to grow and engage diverse groups of students interested in science and engineering. They have also developed a strategy to help Swanson School of Engineering undergraduates experience a new perspective in education.

CampBioE implements a “near-peer” mentoring strategy where they integrate undergraduate bioengineering students as senior counselors and regional high school students as junior counselors. This group creates and implements 50 percent of the camp’s curriculum, allowing them to participate in education from the other side of the desk - in the role of educator. 

“We use this ‘near-peer’ strategy to help break the barrier to STEM,” said Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering and director of CampBioE. “We believe that communicating science through the lens of a junior or senior counselor makes it less intimidating for our campers than learning from a professor.”

CampBioE-opDonehue coordinating the Koronors Korner activity where students identify and extract parts of the body.

Patricia Donehue, a junior biology student at Pitt, served as this year’s camp manager. Her previous participation as a senior counselor in the 2016 and 2017 programs gave her the knowledge and experience to help run the show.

“We focus our curriculum on a theme that appeals to younger generations so that they are more eager to learn,” said Donehue. “Last year’s superhero theme was very successful, but this year, we developed activities dealing with forensics.”

Throughout the week-long experience, students became scientific sleuths and used bioengineering to solve a mystery. 

“It was cool to take bioengineering concepts and apply them to something not typically associated with the discipline,” said Donehue. “We fabricated a criminal mystery that the students had to solve with science. At the end of the week, each of the campers accused a suspect and justified their choice with experimental results from throughout the week.”

CampBioE-tissueStudents doing mechanical testing of biological tissue.

The senior counselors prepared 10 new activities in the months prior to the students’ arrival. Some of this year’s favorites included, “Mannequin Overboard” where the students created helmets to see how well they could protect a fake mannequin brain from a fall; “Mind Over Bladder” where they learned about the extracellular matrix by examining a pig bladder; and “I Spy Something Red” where students were given pieces of red-stained clothing and had to figure out which sample contained blood.

“The students had fun using their hard work to solve a mystery,” said Donehue. “Being a CampBioE counselor is challenging but very rewarding. Each year comes with its own set of obstacles, but when you see the impact camp has on the students, it is worth it to know that we perhaps helped mold a future scientist or engineer.”

CampBioE is the signature outreach program of the Department of Bioengineering. In 2018 they hosted a total of 96 participants, and thanks to generous donations, they were able to provide 60 registration-free scholarships to underrepresented students and students from underserved school districts in the Pittsburgh Area. The 2019 program will be offered from July 8 - August 2. Registration can be found on their website at the beginning of next year. 


Contact: Leah Russell