In June 2015, participants from Big Sandy Community & Technical College led the first annual Appalachian B.O.L.D. (Bioeconomy, Outreach, Leadership, and Development) Summer Camp. The Kentucky NSF EPSCoR funded outreach program aims to increase the diversity of people entering the STEM workforce by targeting the state’s economically challenged coal regions and engaging students in STEM disciplines.

The Appalachian B.O.L.D. Summer Camp project is led by Dr. Thomas and Dr. Chenzhao Vierheller, professors of biology at Big Sandy Community & Technical College, in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. Dr. Thomas Vierheller explains how the camps provide a unique learning experience for eastern Kentucky students,“We developed a curriculum so the students could use laboratory equipment they would not have in their schools and learn new molecular biology techniques as they studied the science of biomolecules.”

This year’s camps welcomed student participants from the across the eastern Kentucky region. The 4-day camps provided students with a variety of hands-on experiment activities, including cellular research and microscopy, biofuel enzymes and chromatography, and DNA replication. An Education Outreach Specialist from Alltech participated in the camps, leading students in a fermentation experiment. On the final day of camp, students visited the East Kentucky Science Center, which features a planetarium and exhibit hall.

The Vierhellers designed the Appalachian B.O.L.D. Summer Camps to incorporate undergraduate participation, as Dr. Thomas Vierheller remarks, “The undergraduate assistants from the Floyd County Early College Academy made outstanding contributions to the camps. From assisting students, helping us with lab equipment, to developing creative Power Point presentations, including these students in the program worked out very well.”

To evaluate the impact of camp activities, the Vierhellers conducted student participant surveys before and after the camps. Students were asked several questions that gauged their interest and aptitude for STEM-related activities and careers. The results of the survey showed a significant boost in student interest and engagement with STEM fields.

The success of this initial event has inspired the Vierhellers to extend the camps throughout the year, “After completing the first year of offering summer camps, we plan to schedule more programs during the academic year. We will especially focus on inviting Talented and Gifted programs from eastern Kentucky schools to participate.”

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