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SATELLITE Program Brings STEM Into Students’ Orbit

Students in paper science lab
SATELLITE Scholars visit the NC State paper science labs, where they learn about pulp and paper while making their own sheets of paper.

Careers in science are growing faster than in any other field, but many students are not well prepared for these prime opportunities — and some don’t even know about them. A summer program run by NC State students aims to help students with less exposure to STEM-related opportunities learn about potential pathways.

In May, 50 high school sophomores from 30 schools across North Carolina gathered on campus for the annual SATELLITE (Science and Technology Enriching Lifelong Leadership in Tomorrow’s Endeavors) camp. The five-day camp featured tours, lectures and hands-on activities designed to engage campers in science and technology and help them learn more about the possibilities offered by these fields.

Students heard about some of these possibilities during a career panel featuring employees of BASF, a leading global chemical company with an office in Research Triangle Park. The four panelists talked to the students about their academic experiences and how they discovered their interests, as well as the twists and turns in their career paths.

BASF career panel presentation
SATELLITE campers listen to BASF professionals share career advice

Clara Cottrell, a patent attorney at BASF and an NC State alumna with a degree in biochemistry, told students not to be afraid to use trial and error to find their academic and professional path. “It’s OK to change your mind; it’s OK to explore,” she said.

During the question-and-answer portion of the panel, students peppered the panelists with questions about a wide range of topics, including role models, workplace collaboration and the value of experience versus textbook knowledge.

In response to a question about what panelists wished they had known when they were in high school. Jean Hatcher, a research chemist at BASF, encouraged students to believe in themselves. “Whatever dreams you might have, you can go out and achieve them if you work for them,” she said. “You can do more than you think you can do.”

Campers also participated in hands-on activities and tours around and off campus. They got to see science at work around Raleigh as they toured the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and met with a museum curator.

A favorite activity of many campers was the egg drop, in which teams of students competed to build structures that would protect an egg dropped from the top of a parking deck on Centennial Campus. The winning structure suspended the egg inside a cup and surrounded it with cotton balls. They also used a parachute to slow the fall of the cup and its contents.

Kenneth Bristow, a camper from Sampson County, is currently looking at colleges and hopes to study engineering. “SATELLITE has been a great experience for me,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot that I can take back to my school.”

The 25 NC State student volunteers, many of whom are part of the Caldwell Fellows leadership program, took a lot away from the camp as well.

Program co-director Kevin Kauffman’s experience with SATELLITE began when he attended the camp in 2011. “I came to NC State knowing that I wanted to be a counselor and give back to the program that had such a significant impact on me,” he said. “The program develops globally aware citizens with the desire to impact the world around them and the confidence and resources to do it.”

“It’s incredibly rewarding to me to see the immense effect the program has on students,” the other co-director, Jacob Lineberry, said. “These high school sophomores leave with new friends and new perspectives about where they want to go in life and understand how STEM can help them make a difference.”

The camp was made possible through financial support from a number of sponsors, including the Biogen Foundation (through a grant administered by the North Carolina Community Foundation), the Duke Energy Foundation and the NC State Student Government.