(EDS: See local quote in 13th graf.)

By Emily White

CLEMSON, S.C. — From the very first day, it was clear this was not your typical summer camp.

The bypass surgery on the cow's heart was one tip-off.

So was building the solar-powered, robotic crab.

“I really liked doing the bypass surgery on the cow's heart,” said Savannah Jennings, who will enter the eighth grade in Piedmont, S.C., this fall. “It was really cool because we got to touch it. Sticking your fingers in it was awesome because I have never felt anything like that before.”

Who knew that learning — especially during summer vacation — could be so much fun?

Savannah and 30 other rising eighth-grade girls with a desire to push their scientific studies to the next level attended Project WISE — short for “Women in Science and Engineering” — at Clemson University June 20-25.

The week-long residential program, sponsored in part by the Duke Energy Foundation, aims to encourage success in the sciences, introduce career opportunities and provide girls with networking opportunities for the future.

“I really enjoy working with girls this age and I like to get them excited about science and my major,” said counselor Sarah Cisewski of Charleston, who earned her bachelor's degree in bioengineering from Clemson this spring. “I attended several camps when I was younger, all science camps. I actually came to an engineering camp here at Clemson when I was a junior in high school.”

Cultivating future scientists and engineers is at the core of Project WISE, which Clemson has held since 1997.

“The students learn that science, engineering and mathematics offer a world of interesting and exciting careers that improve our lives. And women are an important part of these fields,” said Serita Acker, director of the WISE program.

“We give them experience and hands-on learning in biology, mathematics and civil, industrial, chemical and computer engineering,” Acker said. “We try to show them how science and engineering affect them personally, and how exciting and rewarding careers in these fields can be.”

Campers participated in an assortment of activities that crossed the scientific spectrum. In addition to bypass surgery, the girls experimented with encryption in their math classes, created their own cosmetics and constructed a plastic robotic crab powered with a solar panel.

“Electrical engineering has been my favorite because we are building robots and robots are cool,” said Mary Brooks of Jasper, Ga. “But in biology we worked with a partner and did bypass surgery on a cow heart. I loved the cow heart. It was disgusting, but I loved it.”

Clemson professors taught a series of mini-courses in biology, math and engineering throughout the week-long camp. The WISE girls also toured Duke Energy's “World of Energy,” an education center associated with the company's Oconee Nuclear Station, to see their engineering lectures turned into action.

The bulk of the girls' free time was spent with WISE counselors, all of whom are undergraduate women majoring in a science, mathematics or engineering.

“This is my second year being involved with Project WISE. It's such a great experience because these young girls are getting a glimpse of college life early,” said Markella Corbett, a counselor from Charleston who just completed her bachelor's degree in health science at Clemson.

A priority of the camp is to give the girls a taste of what college life is really like: living in residence halls, eating at the campus dining hall and attending daily classes.

“I like being allowed to stay up ‘til 11 p.m.!” beamed Kailyn Barker of McDonough, Ga. “We have a lot of fun going to each other's rooms and talking with the counselors. In class, I like working on the robots because I am not a blood person. The cow heart was gross.”