RUSKIN — Some of the smartest students in South County are in summer school this year.
In fact, they’re there by choice.
June 20-23 they attended the Energy Camp held at Hillsborough Community College SouthShore campus.
Run by the Florida Advanced Technological Education (FLATE) group that gives special summer camp programs for advanced science and math, the focus of last week’s program was to show 25 students from Beth Shields Middle School in Ruskin about solar energy.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for three days students learned about the impact of using fossil fuels and the science of generating solar electricity through various fun activities.
While at the camp, I watched students perform two of those activities: compare the activation and strength of solar cells under different amounts of sunlight and colors and make “cookers” that would cook food using sunlight.
“Look, there is a difference,” said Daniel Cervantes as lead camp instructor from FLATE, Jorge Monreal, changed the “filter” between the sun and the cells from blue to red. Using simple plastic dividers from three-ring notebooks, Monreal was able to demonstrate how color affects the power of solar energy and heat.
Brian Sanchez agreed. Others lying on the ground watching and connecting cells were Cristofer Garcia, Hailey Clavel, and Emely Reyes-Reynoso.
At the same time, other students were making cookers using aluminum foil.
Luis Porras, Juan Juarez-Hernandez and Daniela Reyes-Villalon stretched the foil and cut it to size and then put the food pots in place to be cooked in the sun.
During the three-day period other experiments were also done using wind energy and time was spent learning about ocean energy and home efficiency as well.
Dr. Allen A. Witt, SouthShore campus president, said he is proud to be able to offer his campus for many summer activities.
In July, there will be a repeat of the Robotics Camp featured last year in The Observer News.
“This is the first year we have offered the Energy Camp,” Witt said. “The more opportunities students have to learn, the more inclined they are to stay in school and further their higher education.”
The new campus of HCC SouthShore has gained many new students and programs since opening in the fall of 2008, many of which would have normally chosen a university. The poor economy has been good for HCC because student’s scholarship funds go farther there and for that reason many choose to attend community college for two years and then transfer to a university.
The Energy Camp is a natural for HCC because the HCC campus is being built according to new green energy specifications, Witt said.
Although only the first buildings are up, the campus is eventually slated to house six energy-efficient buildings on its 60-acre site at 551 24th St. N.E. in Ruskin.
Working hard to set up the summer camps were Carlos Ortiz, who teaches at the college and will also be taking charge of the Robotics Camp and David Gula, outreach manager at FLATE and coordinator of the summer camps. Gula is based at the Brandon HCC campus.
“This is very exciting because it is the first ever summer Energy Camp,” said Monreal, who led most of the activities with the help of USF professor Denis Karaiskaj; Andrea Hemphill, middle school science teacher; and Dawn Simon AVID program teacher.
The 25 students from AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) learned about the many aspects of renewable energy technologies guided by FLATE, which is an arm of the National Science Foundation funded by the Florida Energy Systems Consortium of Florida universities established by the Florida Legislature.
Not bothered by all those fancy names and details, students heard about the importance of a college education; why clean energy is important to society; and how we have used energy in the past.
Students lay on the ground in sweltering heat connecting and reconnecting energy cells and measuring how much sunlight affected their temperatures. They simulated greenhouse gas and did experiments with electromagnetism.
The first day, they got to construct a simple motor using only magnets, a battery and a conducting wire.
At lunch time they ate sun-baked cookies, after which they watched a solar technology demonstration.
The main thrust, however, was group workshop projects where students worked together to do tests and measures.
The second and third days they learned about wind technologies and fuel cells and watched renewable energy fuel videos.
It was amazing watching the students unroll aluminum foil knowing they were constructing a “stove” that would cook meals using the energy from the sun. Two cook pots were set on the foil, and their heat measured regularly.
For those whose curiosity is now up, portions of what the students learned are available on the Web. One activity they did: “How light affects molecules in the atmosphere,” may be viewed at http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/molecules-and-light, and another is a NOVA video available for view at http://video.pbs.org/video/1873639434.