Short Features

College Sneak Preview
Fun, sun and homework at summer youth camps

"Awesome:" Christie Fritz tries out the trumpet in Junior SYMS.

College students look younger every year, but this summer, the students on campus are impossibly fresh-faced and carefree. They travel in boisterous packs across campus, toting instruments, lacrosse sticks or notebooks, breaking spontaneously into songs or chants or sprints across the grass.

As it turns out, these students are a younger set—adolescents and teenagers who devote part of their summer to some serious work, and play, in a college environment. Students come to campus for sports camps, theater workshops, and for programs like Upward Bound that help prepare them for college. Some of the teens are attending Project SMART (Science and Mathematics Achievement through Research Training), and an even younger set, grades 6 though 9, stay for one week to work on their musical skills at the Junior Summer Youth Music School (SYMS).

On the first day of rehearsals in the Junior SYMS program—an oppressively hot and muggy day—Kevin McDonald '93 is preparing to lead the Springfield Band, the least experienced students, in a rendition of "The Canterbury Overture" in the MUB's food court. The musicians are slumped in their chairs, some scarcely visible behind large, shiny instruments. McDonald signals to the flutes and trumpets to begin, and the melody is almost recognizable.

"Eye contact, sit up straight!" he calls out as they play. Minutes later, with an abrupt wave of the baton, he motions them to stop. "Flutes, you're playing your part pretty well, and trumpets, so are you. The only problem is we're not playing together! Trumpets, you're rushing like mad." Together they clap out the beat at the right tempo, and resume playing. "Bravo!" he calls out when the sections converge.

Upstairs, 15 students are trying the trumpet for the first time. Counselor Kyle Smith '01, a music education major, asks them to remove—and blow into—the trumpets' mouthpieces, and it seems as if a gaggle of geese have suddenly flown into the room. One girl blows so hard the mouthpiece shoots across the floor, setting off the first laughing fit.

The junior program is a three-year-old offshoot of the 54-year-old SYMS program, a two-week intensive music program for high school students. The junior program accepts 350 students, mainly from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, who come to sing in choruses, play in jazz bands and orchestras, learn a new instrument or two, and to hone their skills on their favorite instrument.

Mark DeTurk, SYMS program director, says, "It's a very hectic, high-energy period. It's extremely reassuring and confidence-building for them to be with others who have the same interests. The morale is very high."

McDonald, the Springfield band conductor, attended SYMS as a teenager, as did his mother some 35 years earlier. "I really found myself here; it's when I first knew that I was going to major in music," he explains. He says some of the students may be viewed as music geeks at school, but at the music camp they feel at home and make lasting friendships. "I'm still in touch with a lot of friends I made at SYMS," he notes.

By week's end, Smith's trumpeters are breezing through some simple songs and scales, and more importantly, they're hooked on the trumpet. Christie Fritz, 13, from Laconia, N.H., says she'll teach herself the trumpet just as she taught herself guitar. "I always wanted to play the trumpet, but never had the chance. It's awesome."

In an open field on UNH's Kingman Farm, Project SMART space science students are sprawled on the grass, placing tiny engines inside their self-built model rockets. One by one, they step up to the launch pad, position their rocket and then stand back to press a button for liftoff. The first three misfire, but after a few adjustments to the wiring, the next set shoot 1,000 feet into blue sky. The young engineers hoot and cheer, and dash off to retrieve the rocket as it makes its wobbly descent.

Ground tracking by Project SMART students at Kingman farm.

Project SMART began eight years ago in response to the need for challenging programs for the state's most talented young students. The high school participants, ranked in the top 5 percent of their classes, are immersed in an intensive program focused on math, science and computers. They spend their days listening to guest lecturers, conducting research with faculty members, doing hands-on lab work and taking field trips. And they learn about the latest developments in science and the potential ethical, economic and environmental impacts on society.

Michael Walsh, a 16-year-old Concord, N.H., student, says he likes this kind of summer learning style: "no tests, hands-on research and not much homework." He works with research professor Mark McConnell '87G, graphing solar flares and gamma rays.

In the biotechnology section of Project SMART, students conduct experiments in the Rudman Hall laboratories; they clone plants, and learn to isolate the DNA of bacteria; they transfer genes from one organism to another—a simple example of genetic engineering—and they learn the techniques of DNA fingerprinting.

Plant biology professor Subhash Minocha, Project Smart's director, says the hands-on experiments show these students the essence of biotechnology—how the simple use of tools can result in powerful technology. "It's possible to create microbes that would be devastating to society, and others that can be used for good. It's important that they understand the implications."

Students also get a sneak preview of college social life. They report they enjoy the new independence, the chance to gab and engage in raucous horseplay until the wee hours. As students gather for an 8:30 a.m. lecture, they banter about who slept the least, and for the next 90 minutes, a few look as if they might doze off.

At the poster presentations on the program's final day, Phillips Andover Academy student Yung Lyou and Winnacunnet High School student Vanessa Lacey display their joint project on gene therapy. Both students are intrigued with the possibilities raised by genetics but concerned about the ethical and moral dilemmas it poses.

Lacey, who hopes to study genetic engineering in college, says science should be tempered by ethics. "Human life wouldn't be as sacred if scientists could create it. I don't think we should play God."

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