Summer of science: Camps to help students have fun, learn

2014-04-14T00:30:00Z 2014-05-13T16:47:12Z Summer of science: Camps to help students have fun, learnBy ROB ROGERS The Billings Gazette

David Snow knows summer camps, it's how he put himself through high school and college.

"I always loved those experiences," he said.

These days, Snow is all grown up and an associate professor of mathematics education at Montana State University Billings. And he's using his powers for good. 

This June, MSUB will stage STEM Camp on its downtown campus, a series of science and math-based summer camps organized by Snow and centered on instruction from professors at the college. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

First will come Voyager Camp, beginning June 9. It's open to incoming high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors. The next week will be Explorer Camp for students entering grades five and six. It starts on June 16. The last will be Challenger Camp for students entering grades seven and eight. It begins on June 23.

All the faculty participating will present an interactive lecture each morning and then meet with students at the end of the week to discuss their work and projects.

Curriculum is still being developed for the camps aimed at the elementary and middle school students. The high school camp is ready for prime time.

Mark Jacobson, an associate professor of math, will teach the engineering section, focusing on "complex variables." Snow will tackle the math portion, teaching biomechanics.   

Kurt Toenjes, an associate professor of molecular biology, will handle science instruction, presenting on "bacterial and viral pathogenesis" for the high-schoolers and "microbes that will make you sick" for the elementary school students.

For Snow, the faculty involvement highlights the vast and valuable resources MSUB has within its walls. 

Toenjes is a celebrated scientist who in 2010 working alongside students and colleague Professor David Butler, secured two patents — a first for MSUB. The patents are related to fungal research that showed new ways to control yeast growth and treat fungal infections like thrush.

The technology portion of the camps will involve robotics, taught by Andrew Sullivan and Tim Denney. 

Snow said it was relatively easy to convince faculty to participate. Typically, college professors use their summers to do research, as they're all required to publish scholarly papers.

But the summer camps presented them with the chance to work with young and eager students and thus perpetuate STEM education, something they've devoted their lives to, he said.

When they sat down to work out the camp curriculum, Snow told them to chose topics they found interesting.

"I want you to teach something you're excited about," he told them, saying he knew if the professors were excited about the material, the students would pick up on it and get excited, too. 

Registration for the camps is open now at

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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