Week One: Where am I?

This year’s first week of school, I was M.I.A. My SnapChat story sported settings quite different from yours at Central: pictures of turtles, videos in a laboratory, and serenades of Happy Birthday to some guy named Logan. 

If you didn’t see those stories then you’re probably getting really confused, so I’ll stop with the cryptidness. During the first week of school I was in Aberdeen, Maryland on the second leg of a STEM camp called the Joint Science and Technology Institute (JSTI).

2019 Joint Science Technology Institute Aberdeen Proving Grounds High School Students (JSTI-HS) and Teachers (JSTI-T) Ultimate Watersports team building exercise Water072819
JSTI logo

JSTI is a two week long, residential, fully funded (meaning FREE), STEM research camp in Aberdeen Proving Grounds and is put on by (wait for it) an agency of the United States Department of Defense. This camp was open to American citizens in any high school in the US, US Territories, and at military base and DoD schools in any country. 

I met people from all over the country and the world, my roommate was from South Korea, one of my friends lives in Italy, and met people from Germany and Guam. There

Me with my research group on the morning of our presentation

were students there from closer to home like Chattanooga, Kentucky, and South Carolina. I also met people from everywhere in between such as Oregon, Virginia, Nevada, Texas, California, Louisiana, and that list just goes on and on. 

We were divided into research groups and paired with an expert as our mentor. My mentor was Dr. Morgan Minyard, a Science and Technology manager for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. All of us came together those two weeks to do real science and research into fields and subjects most high schoolers don’t even get to experience until college. Just some possible fields of study were robotics, 3D printing, bio-medicine, and environmental science. 

Now we’re getting into what I actually did, my group was researching the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and the water that goes into it. And if that sounds boring to you, just wait, you will be proved wrong. So what exactly does that mean, what is water quality? For our research, we wanted to know the levels of nitrates, phosphates, ammonia, dissolved oxygen, and pH in the water and then figure out and discuss what those mean for the overall health of the Bay. 

Throughout the week we took eleven different water samples samples from different areas in and around the Bay. The first day we collected a sample from a clean water

My group and I in the Rhode River after collecting water samples and fishing

output at a wastewater treatment plant in Edgewood, MD as well as from the Bush river about twenty feet away where the treated water is released. Afterwards we went to Swan Harbor Farm about eleven miles northeast and collected a sample from the shore of the bay and out in the open water from a pier. 

The next day we went to Annapolis Harbor and went on a sailboat all day with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation collecting three different samples from the middle of the Bay as well as dredging for oysters and catching crabs and fish to learn about the ecosystem we were

Me holding a fish I caught on a sailboat in the Chesapeake Bay

researching. My group also took samples and spent a day at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, MD learning about how they research and help the Bay as well as building vehicles for the water to aid our own research. We had samples from additional locations like Baltimore Harbor and runoff from our mentors neighborhood, each sample was labeled with time, date, and location and kept  cool until it was time to test them. 

After samples were collected we used a lab at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland to do all our lab work. To test levels of nitrates, phosphates, and ammonia we used a HACH spectrophotometer (don’t worry I can’t pronounce it either) which uses specific manually added chemical reagents and beams of light to tell the user the level of any substance, compound, or element they want to test for. We tested amounts of our three compounds in milligrams per liter and saw how they compared to what experts say are safe and healthy levels. 

For testing pH we used a pH meter and a dissolved oxygen sensor to test dissolved oxygen.

The best thing we learned over the course of the program is that the Bay’s health is improving! Slowly but surely through efforts from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center we’ve seen improvements in data from years before.

However, it wasn’t all work and no play. the staff packed our weeknights with various activities such as kayaking, rock climbing, driving to Delaware to go to Main Event, and a

My friend Logan poses with a panda at the National Zoo

Minor League baseball game. Over the weekend all 36 of us piled into a coach bus for an almost two hour ride to Washington DC where we explored the National Mall, wandered around the National Zoo, and spent time in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. We occasionally had free time to hang out at the pool, go to the IHOP next door, or hang out in our friends rooms.

Towards the end of the week we had to start work on our final projects. Every group made a poster showing off their work as well as prepared a presentation. On our last day we dressed up and packed up (all before 6:30 am) then headed to an event center to show our findings in our final presentations in front of some really important people in the Department of Defense, including  the people that continue to get funding for the camp. 

The last day, sadly was the hardest, on top of presenting in front of a room of over a

My friends and I the morning of our last day

hundred people, we all had to say goodbye to the great friends we made and teachers and mentors we got to know over the two weeks. Let’s just say, the flight home was a sad, reminiscent one. 

I can confidently say that JSTI was easily one of the best experiences of my life. I made amazing friends and did some incredible things I’ll never forget; I could’ve stayed for a month… or two. But I am glad to be back in Fountain City and back at the home of the Red and Black, while I made many new friends I missed the ones still here. 

I would recommend JSTI to anyone who wants to go into a STEM field, the experience and learning is more valuable than anything you could do at a public high school and will broaden your sights to the possibilities and opportunities available in college, graduate school, careers and beyond. I made connections with important, prominent people that I would’ve never gotten close to meeting anywhere else.  I highly recommend it to anyone here at Central and please feel free to come up and talk to me with any questions. 

Link to JSTI website for those interested in learning more.

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