Upward Bound senior at Avery County High School, August Mendez, recently participated in a nationally recognized, regional, immersive, summer STEM Program. Established in 1990, the ARC Oak Ridge Summer STEM Program is a residential, hands-on learning experience for Appalachia’s middle and high school students, as well as high school teachers in STEM-related fields. Participants in the program work with award-winning scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the largest U.S. Department of Energy research facilities in the United States. Students conduct guided group science, math, and computer science technology research projects, and showcase their work at a ceremony at the culmination of the experience.
Hosted by Oak Ridge Associated Universities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, this program is a gateway to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the Appalachian Region. Many participants come from economically distressed counties and often gain their first exposure to applied science and STEM education through this experience.
The project August and his team worked on gained the attention of North Carolina Governor, Roy Cooper, and August and his group met virtually with the governor earlier this summer. August shares his thoughts about the experience:
AUGUST: Oak Ridge Academy (ORA) was a cool experience where I was able to connect with other students across the state to work on science-based projects. We started with a big group meeting with all the participants and then broke up into smaller groups to work on our projects over the two weeks of the program. My group was focusing on radioactive biology. We were looking at the effects of growth on cells to see if radiation decreased or increased the size of the cells. We worked on a team with six students and a professor for two weeks. Due to Covid, the entire program took place virtually. Our experiment involved projecting UV rays onto radishes that had been exposed to gamma rays. We found that the radishes grew quickly.
Governor Cooper was interested in the experiment we did, which is why we were able to meet with him. I was really nervous about it, but it ended up being a virtual meeting where we shared about our project.
Upward Bound told me about the ORA experience and my UB advisor helped me apply. I love Upward Bound, because I have made so many friends and experienced so many new things through the program.
My favorite part of the experience was meeting new people and getting to experience new things, and work on these experiments. It was an all new experience for me; it pushed me out of my comfort zone, but I had a fun time and learned a lot.
August is currently applying to colleges for admission in Fall 2022, and he intends to pursue a career in filmmaking.