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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.