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St. Bona STEM camp provided cross-culture experience

Photo from the St. Bonaventure website

St. Bonaventure University hosted an STEM camp featuring international high school students. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley reports the students came from China, Spain & the U.S. to work on a variety of projects to enhance their learning in a cross-culture atmosphere.

Dr. Xiao-Ning Zhang is Associate Professor of Biology and director of Biochemistry at St. Bona. She and fellow faculty members guided the American and foreign high school students through this STEM camp. They learned about forensic science, technology, engineering and how disease can be spread by a superbug.

“And I just see their eyes open and they have those aha moment popping up here and there and it’s just amazing. It’s fantastic,”  Dr. Zhang explained. 

We caught up with the students through a Facebook chat after they completed work on campus in a 'crime lab' on campus studying blood types. 

"It's my first time to come to the U.S.  I'm excited and a little nervous,” said Wendy Yu, a high school student from China.

Blending the American and foreign students together provided a unique learning experience. For the students who traveled from across the globe, they say it was a different way of learning STEM.

“I learned something different from China, such as subject case and some interesting games,” Yu said.               

Students worked together on projects, communicating the best they could, learning how science works in other languages.

“What’s it like to work with these students from another part of the world?” asked Buckley.

“Sometimes it can be difficult because there is definitely a language barrier, but I think it is definitely nice to have kind of an exchange of different cultures and to meet somebody from a different part of the world,” responded Joshua John, a high school student who traveled from Warren, Pennsylvania.

John described the STEM camp as a 'good experience'.

“We took bacteria and we made it resistant to antibiotics and we learned how to modify bacteria into being antibiotic resistant. We learned about Saturn’s rings and planets and I learned how to say ‘hello’ in Chinese,” John stated.

“I think it has been a great experience because it just is a real eye opener into the different cultures, especially Chinese culture which we don’t see or hear of much in the U.S.,” declared Nick Ledermann, student from Altamont, New York in Albany County. He's very interested in a possible career as a forensic scientist.

“We’re just in a crime lab today and we are learning, I forget the term, type of gel, but you run DNA through a certain type of gel and depending on the strands of DNA and the type of DNA and type of chemicals in it, it’ll be pulled a different length in the gel. That shows the uniqueness in that DNA, so you can use it to find a criminal from blood or any form of DNA found at a crime scene,” Ledermann explained.

Student Sally Rodgers is from Connecticut. “To be honest, I was pretty nervous when I first heard there was a bunch of kids coming from China. I thought oh no, we are not going to be able to communicate,” Rodgers remarked.

But Rodgers enjoyed this STEM camp and working side-by-side with the international students.

“And I wasn’t sure how well they would have been able to speak English, so that was definitely a problem at first, but we’ve been doing a lot of group work, a lot of Google Translate, but we’ve been really getting to know each other and come to appreciate each other’s cultures,” Rodgers noted.

Professor Zhang’s teaching is also enhanced by observing the students interactions.

“Some of the students, they're so skillful in expressing themselves and they somehow can bring in more components in the instruction, which is really amazing. I think I am always learning from the classroom because you never know what they will come up with which is the joy of teaching,” Professor Zhang responded.

“I think the biggest thing actually is it is a lot easier to communicate with other a lot of people, than I thought before,” said Lucy Shea, high schooler from Virginia.

Shea said working in the crime lab portion of the STEM camp will help her in her future science classes. Students also attended a study planning session.

“The speaker just talked about better study habits and focusing more in school and having these advantages that could help you in college,” Shea said.  

The camp also featured a life skills component. It focused on competency, public speaking and leadership.

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