Students learn about drone technology with a hands-on activity.

A total of 116 local high school students recently graduated from a summer ACT and STEM-H camp hosted by the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine (BCOM), Dona Ana Community College (DACC), and New Mexico State University (NMSU). The five-week camp was founded by Samuel Kadavakollu, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biochemistry at BCOM, who ran similar camps starting in 2013 at Western New Mexico University in Silver City.

Part of BCOM’s mission is to start a pipeline, encouraging high school, and even younger, students, to pursue careers in medicine. Dr. Kadavakollu said he hopes this course will lead students to eventually apply for medical school, or any form of higher education for that matter. “Our main priority is serving the students in our community,” he said. “Test scores are low in our state, and part of the problem is that students don’t know how to study for standardized and comprehensive exams. They don’t know how to practice. They don’t know how to manage their time. By helping them prep for the ACT, we’re helping them learn how to focus and how to take three hour long exams. These are skills they can use in high school and in university. They can improve their ACT scores, and they’ll be more prepared in the future to take exams like the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), or even the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).”

Based on pre- and post-tests, student enrolled in the course improved their ACT scores on average by 24 percent, but the camp curriculum went far beyond prepping for the ACT. It included a strong focus on STEM-H (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Health) enrichment. In fact, Dr. Kadavakollu pointed out that only about 50 percent of camp time was spent specifically on ACT prep. The rest of the time, students were exposed to various science-related careers and engaged in hands-on activities involving robotics, drones, and computer concepts.

“It was a lot more than just ACT,” noted Centennial High School student Stefanie Mayfield who took the course to help improve her math score. “It was a lot of hands-on stuff, like one day we programmed little robots and made them move. They also had an immunologist and a pharmacologist come down from Albuquerque and talk to us about what they do. I would tell other students considering signing up for the camp that you get more out of it than just ACT prep.”

Another Centennial High School student, Kieran Mackay, said he signed up because he heard there would be computer science activities. He not only brought his ACT score up from a 22 to a 28, he is now considering a career in cyber security. “I think other students should know that it’s not just lecturing; there were a lot of fun activities and even games to give us a break. It was more of a camp experience than just sitting in a classroom all day.”

Samuel Kadavakollu, Ph.D., founder of the ACT and STEM-H Summer Camp.

Raja Shindi, Ph.D, a faculty member at DACC and NMSU who served as assistant director for the ACT and STEM-H camp, said part of the goal was to simulate the university learning environment to better prepare students for the transition from high school to higher education. “Students tend to struggle when they get out of high school and into college because it’s a completely different environment,” Dr. Shindi said. “At this camp, we had college-level faculty teaching. We also had a BCOM medical student with a science background as an instructor, and an LCPS high school teacher covering the English portion. We brought in other professionals to talk to the students about the degrees, opportunities, and scholarships available to them, and to share their own life stories as well. I think that diversity and collaboration was a benefit to the students in helping them understand what the expectations will be as they continue in their academic careers.”

Sixty of the students who attended the camp are also enrolled in NMSU’s TRIO Upward Bound Program, which assists local students in successfully completing their secondary and post-secondary education. “We decided to have our TRIO students participate in the camp because it fits with our program’s mission, purpose, and goal,” explained Rosa De La Torre-Burmeister, Director of the TRIO Upward Bound Program. “Our students felt the camp was rigorous and an invaluable academy for our upcoming seniors.”

Dr. Kadavakollu said this year’s camp was made possible thanks to support from BCOM Dean Don N. Peska, DO; BCOM President John L. Hummer; Debra Bramblett, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences; and Jennifer Snider from BCOM’s Simulation Lab who provided CPR and First Aid training to all 116 students. Funding for this camp was provided by the Southwest Foundation for Osteopathic Education & Research, the Las Cruces Public Schools Foundation, and five local physicians who gave private donations. Free breakfasts and lunches were served by the NM Summer Food Service Program.

Anyone who would like to contribute to this invaluable camp and the futures of high school students in the region, can contact Dr. Kadavakollu at skadavakollu@bcomnm.org or (575) 674-2342. More information on the ACT and STEM-H Camp can be found at: bcomnm.org/academics/act-prep-course.