Sixty high school students attended a weeklong science camp at Hillsdale College this summer. This is the 27th annual science camp offered by the college. Frank Steiner | Courtesy

When biology department chairman Frank Steiner first came to Hillsdale, he said he sought to improve relations between the natural sciences division and the Hillsdale community. Now, he said he has exceeded even his own expectations.

“We started with a camp of just 20 students,” Steiner said. “Twenty-seven years later, we have 60 students on campus for the whole week.”

Since 1991, more than 1,500 high-school students have attended the Hillsdale College summer science camps. For one week each summer, the college’s natural sciences division holds a residential camp experience for sophomore, junior, and senior high-school students. They offer programs in chemistry and physics, mathematics, and molecular biology.

For a week of hands-on experience and learning, the Hillsdale Summer Science Camp costs $100.

“It’s super cheap,” said senior Jonathan Coote, a biology major and teaching assistant at the camp. “It’s definitely a steal.”

While the camp is mainly attended by students from the tristate area and Hillsdale County, the low price has allowed students from all over the country to attend the camp.

A couple high-school students from Boston, Massachusetts, raised money from their church to attend the camp. Steiner said one of those students ended up getting into a prestigious school largely because of their drive to attend the summer camp.

“I received a letter from the mother thanking me, and I thought her story was pretty amazing,” Steiner said.

While the camp has always aimed to act as a bridge between the college and the community, Steiner said he originally thought his camp would be an active workshop for teachers.

“We actually started with teachers,” Steiner said. “We would cut splice DNA and do basic things in genetic engineering for bacteria and they said, ‘This is really cool, could we bring our students next time?’ I then thought, ‘Well, maybe we don’t have to incorporate the teachers at all.’”

Steiner and other science professors have worked to implement a program rich in hands-on experience.

“One thing we do is a DNA-fingerprinting experiment, and I’m pretty sure not too many high schools are doing that,” Steiner said. “Students can see their own genome type for a piece of noncoding DNA. It’s pretty cool.”

Hillsdale College students also have gained valuable experiences from the camp. For some, it inspired their future career path.

Assistant Professor of Biology Silas Johnson ’04 worked at the camp as a teaching assistant his senior year at Hillsdale and said his experiences confirmed his interest in teaching.

“The sum of my experiences as a student at Hillsdale informed me that I wanted to teach at a liberal-arts college. The summer camp was definitely part of that,” Johnson said.