Syracuse-area 8th Graders Wrap up Weeklong Outdoor, Hands-on Science Experience

Jul 10, 2015

Sidney Chafee, right, works with fellow 8th graders on an experiment at the Onondaga Lake Visitors Center.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

  Eighty Syracuse-area middle school students have spent the past week gathering water and soil samples, catching insects, observing fish,  and studying mud boils in Tully to learn more about the Onondaga Lake watershed.  It’s the tenth year of Honeywell's Summer Science Week, which is organized by the Museum of Science and Technology.  Solvay 8th grader Sidney Chafee wants to go into marine biology or a related field.  She enjoyed learning about the restoration of the lake’s wetlands after decades of pollution.

"Now we're planting things so we grow more wildlife.  More birds and fish are coming.  There's a lot more of an ecosystem.   Mother nature is taking over, and it's just going to be a lot more pleasant to come, people will want to swim here, and it'll smell a lot better, because I live right down the's terrible."

Chafee isn’t deterred by the extra work it might take to pursue a career in marine science.  Shakeem Ellick is about to enter Corcoran High School’s International Baccalaureate program, and science has always been on his career radar.

The 8th graders and counselors gather for a group photo. Organizer an MoST Exhibits Project Manager Peter Plumley is seated at center left in tan shirt. SUNY ESF Freshman Rebecca Rolnick is seated toward bottom right in gray cap.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

"Science has always been one of my favorite subjects.  And this helps.  I always figured I should be a lawyer, doctor, or scientist.  Since I'm doing this, I want to be a scientist even more.  I try and do anything extra to help me."

Science week organizer and MoST Exhibits Project Manager Peter Plumley couldn’t agree more.  He says the intense week of fields study, interactive experiments and data collection gives the students an experience and advantage that so few will ever have. 

"When they get done with this and go in the 9th grade, they know they can do science.  They sit in the classroom and hear the teacher talk about stuff, and say, geez, I've done that.  I bet this teacher hasn't done it!  She's just reading it!  That gives them a real sense of accomplishment and ownership."

  Plumley says he’s tracked down some of the 8th graders from 2006 who graduated from college last year.  He was gratified to learn a large number of them attended good schools and studied the stem subjects.  One of those students appears to be on a similar path.  Rebecca Rolnick will be a SUNY ESF freshman this fall majoring in conservation biology.  She volunteered this week as a counselor for the 8th graders.  But she has the unique perspective of participating in science week a few years ago as a middle schooler herself…

Students work an experiment with their counselor looking on.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

  "When I went to the camp, they were talking about how they were just going to start the dredging of the lake.  And now that's finished.   Now they're working on more of the restoration.  A lot of the plants and animals have started to come back, and the community has been really involved in it over the past few years.  That's really great to see." 

Rolnick says she already had the science bug at a young age, and science week just confirmed her interest.  The program culminates Wednesday with a discussion of the data they collected, a talk from a former NASA astronaut, and an awards ceremony.