Building a STEM Pipeline

Troy, N.Y. – This summer, Capital Region middle-school students eager to participate in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning will have an opportunity once again to explore the STEM fields at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. For the 12th consecutive year, the ExxonMobil Foundation and Dr. Bernard A. Harris Jr., the first African-American to walk in space, will sponsor summer science camps at colleges across the country. This is the 10th year that Rensselaer has been selected to participate in the program. The program will held on the Rensselaer campus from June 25 to July 4.

On Thursday, June 29, the camp experience will feature a one-day astronaut-themed competition, the Mars Lander Challenge, developed by Harris. Students will compete to build the safest and most accurate spacecraft made of household materials. The competition will be held on the Rensselaer campus in the Russell Sage Dining Hall from 9 to 11 a.m. Dr. Harris will also be present. 

“STEM careers offer wonderful opportunities and open doors for students who choose them. The camps serve to encourage and inspire the creativity and enthusiasm in students who are interested in STEM,” said Harris, president of The Harris Foundation. “My goal with the camps is to empower the next generation of innovative thinkers, particularly those who may be socioeconomically disadvantaged and have limited exposure to available options for careers in STEM.”

This year, participating students are from the following school districts: Amsterdam, Argyle, Bolton, Broadalbin-Perth, Cohoes, Dover Union Free School District, Gloversville Enlarged Central School District, Green Island Union Free District, Hoosic Valley, Middleburgh, New Lebanon, North Colonie, Poughkeepsie, Roxbury, Saratoga Springs, Saugerties, Schenectady, Schoharie Central, Scotia, South Colonie, Troy, Warrensburg, Webucktuck, and Worcester.

“At Rensselaer, we understand the important role STEM programs such as these play in preparing students for the high-tech careers of tomorrow,” said Cynthia Smith ’96, assistant dean of students at Rensselaer, director of pipeline initiatives and partnerships, and the director of the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at Rensselaer. “Over the years, we have seen incredible enthusiasm and interest from our campers, sparked by the opportunity they have to see science and math at work in the community through the exciting interactive experiments, field excursions, and the core curriculum taught by our highly qualified and motivated teachers.” 

Throughout the 10 day camp, students live on campus and participate in interactive, inquiry-based classes taught by university faculty, secondary school teachers, and STEM educators. Campers also have the opportunity to explore local museums and nature centers − discovering science within their communities. This year, students will be visiting Peeble’s Island State Park and Ecovative Design.

“ExxonMobil thrives on creativity and ingenuity to remain a strong global competitor, and building our next-generation workforce is of critical importance to the company,” said Ben Soraci, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation. “Dr. Harris is an outstanding role model, and his camps provide a vital opportunity for students to experience STEM, problem-solving, and teamwork in action.”

“There is no better way to foster a love of STEM than through hands-on experiences,” Harris said. “My goal with our camps is to foster the next generation of innovative thinkers, particularly those who may not have had significant exposure to STEM and interactive experiences like those we provide.”

The ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camps have served more than 12,500 students at colleges across the country since 2006. This year’s university hosts are in Alaska, Arkansas, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

In addition to Rensselaer, participating universities include: Lamar University (Beaumont, Texas), New Jersey Institute of Technology (Newark, New Jersey), North Carolina Central University (Durham, North Carolina), Temple University (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), University of Alaska Anchorage (Anchorage, Alaska), University of Arkansas at Little Rock (Little Rock, Arkansas), University of Houston (Houston, Texas), University of Oklahoma (Norman, Oklahoma), and the University of Texas at Arlington (Arlington, Texas).

According to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, economic projections indicate that by 2018, there could be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs. The STEM employment gap is further compounded by persistent diversity challenges, as women and minorities, who comprise 70 percent of college students but less than 45 percent of STEM degrees, represent a largely untapped talent pool.

“We are honored that Rensselaer was selected this year as a camp host because of our long-standing commitment to math and science education, and our efforts to support and promote local community youth in these disciplines,” Smith said. Rensselaer also received $80,000 from the Harris Foundation to support this year’s program. To date, 444 Capital Region students have participated in the program at Rensselaer.

The summer camp is vital to The New Polytechnic, an emerging paradigm for teaching, learning, and research at Rensselaer. The New Polytechnic is transformative in the global impact of research, in its innovative pedagogy, and in the lives of students at Rensselaer.

For more information about the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at Rensselaer, visit:

For more information about the Harris Foundation, visit:

About The Harris Foundation

Founded in 1998, The Harris Foundation is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization based in Houston, whose overall mission is to invest in community-based initiatives to support education, health and wealth. The foundation supports programs that empower individuals, in particular minorities and the economically and/or socially disadvantaged, to recognize their potential and pursue their dreams. The education mission of The Harris Foundation is to enable youth to develop and achieve their full potential through the support of social, recreational, and educational programs. The Harris Foundation believes students can be prepared now for the careers of the future through a structured education program and the use of positive role models. More than 50,000 students have participated and benefited from its programs. 

About the ExxonMobil Foundation

The ExxonMobil Foundation is the primary philanthropic arm of Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) in the United States. The foundation and corporation engage in a range of philanthropic activities that advance education, promote women as catalysts for economic development, and combat malaria. In the United States, ExxonMobil supports initiatives to improve math and science education at the K-12 and higher education levels. In 2016, the ExxonMobil Foundation together with Exxon Mobil Corporation, its divisions and affiliates along with employees and retirees, provided $242 million in contributions worldwide.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. For nearly 200 years, Rensselaer has been defining the scientific and technological advances of our world. Rensselaer faculty and alumni represent 85 members of the National Academy of Engineering, 17 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 8 members of the National Academy of Medicine, 8 members of the National Academy of Inventors, and 5 members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, as well as 6 National Medal of Technology winners, 5 National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With 7,000 students and nearly 100,000 living alumni, Rensselaer is addressing the global challenges facing the 21st century—to change lives, to advance society, and to change the world. To learn more, go to