U of I volunteers ‘bond’ with kids in chemistry day camp

Jenn Donenberg has not been around campus much this summer, but for one weekend she decided to make a trip down to help some middle school girls out with their chemistry.

Donenberg, a junior in LAS, was just one of a handful of volunteers from the University’s Department of Chemistry to participate in the second weekend of the annual “Bonding With Chemistry: A Day Camp for Girls” on Saturday. The first round of campers participated earlier this summer on June 26.

The day camp, presented by the East Central Illinois Women Chemists Committee, first began in 2008 with a grant from the American Chemical Society and aims to encourage middle school girls from around Illinois to develop an interest in science, said Lindsay Sperling, graduate student in chemistry and day camp coordinator.

Sperling said around 40 to 50 girls come to the University from area schools and the Chicago area for a day of basic hands-on chemistry experiments. Notices were sent out to schools earlier this year, and the committee also advertised the event to University faculty members with children.

“Interest has also been spread through word-of-mouth,” Sperling added. “People last year who had fun tell others about it, and they come to participate this year.”

The day camp comprised of four stations set up in laboratory classrooms on the second floor of Noyes Lab. Each station contained hands-on experiments revolving around themes such as Kitchen Chemistry and Energy Conservation.

In the Forensics station, Donenberg led a urine analysis experiment designed to teach the girls about acids and pH levels.

“We’re doing things you’d do at a crime scene,” she said. “There’s a lot of science that goes into figuring out what happened and who did it.”

The experiment involved testing several vials of liquid and seeing which had different pH levels than others.

Soon-to-be eighth grader Lucy O’Brien from Urbana said she thought the urine analysis experiment was “cool” and reminded her of the television show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

But while O’Brien found forensics to be interesting, it was not something she saw for her future.

“I think I would not be able to deal with all the deadness,” she said.

Student Alexis Dhamrait, who is going into the fifth grade at Iles Elementary School in Springfield, Ill., said she enjoyed her learning experience at the day camp.

“We learned how to make soap and stuff,” Dhamrait said.

“I like science a lot. I like chemistry the most,” she added.

Many volunteers, who were mostly undergraduate and graduate students in chemistry, said working with the younger girls was a rewarding experience.

“I’m taking a physical chemistry class right now and heard about it from my teacher,” said Shabnam Ahmed, junior in LAS and day camp group leader.

As group leader, Ahmed supervised a group of girls throughout the day, leading them from station to station.

Ahmed said this was the first year she has volunteered for the day camp and is excited to do it again.

“It doesn’t feel like volunteering. It’s just fun,” Ahmed said.