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Luna's AHEC hosts virtual camp

Luna AHEC holds virtual summer camp for students
By Dave Kavanaugh
Luna Community College

To show how important careers in health care and the sciences can be, organizers of a recent summer camp needed only to point to today’s headlines.

Luna Community College and the Montanas del Norte Area Health Education Center treated middle school students to the Science & Health Career Camp the week of June 15-19. It was offered free of charge and held online, in keeping with social distancing guidelines.

The thrust of the camp was to expose students to the array of opportunities in the sciences, notably in health and health care, which have garnered particular attention in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to combat the virus.

Among the camp’s educational features, Luna STEM representatives staged a simulated cough to demonstrate how far droplets can travel in the air. STEM Director Francisco Apodaca said they used ultraviolet light to show transmissions from 8 to 12 feet. The visual representation provided a vivid reminder of how critical social distancing and other measures are in preventing transmission of coronavirus and other viruses.

Luna Community College STEM Director Francisco Apodaca and STEM advisor Janice Varela prepare a demonstration during the Area Health Education Center’s Science & Health Career Camp for area youngsters. Apodaca and Varela provided a visual demonstration of how far droplets from a cough will travel as part of COVID-19 related content matter. The free online camp for middle schoolers was coordinated in part by Elaine Luna and AHEC.

Nineteen students, coming from such communities as Las Vegas, El Valle, Santa Rosa and Romeroville, took part in the camp.

“Initially, plans were under way for the camp to take place (on campus),” said AHEC Director Elaine Luna. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we acted quickly to convert to an online virtual program. It was somewhat of a challenge, but we knew the camp had to move forward. We knew that youth had become accustomed to online learning, so they adjusted quickly to the Zoom sessions. They mastered the online chat box. During each session, they were busy putting in messages, comments and questions in the box. The presenters were pleased with how interactive the sessions were. Some of the participants experienced momentary WiFi connection issues during some of the sessions, but for the most part, it went well. They used desktop computers, laptops and in some cases accessed on their phones for each session.”

Each student created a storybook on the first day of camp, and each day every student added camp highlights about what they learned that day. On the last day of camp, students had an opportunity to deliver short presentations on their storybooks and what they learned.

Among the comments received from student participants:
“I learned a lot about how to stay healthy and how to stay safe during COVID.”
“I want to try a career in health.”
“I can’t believe the camp is over. I wish we had more days.”

AHEC is considering the possibility of partnering to hold another camp in the future.

“It was wonderful to experience all of our youth engaged in online learning activities and eager to participate each day,” said Elaine Luna. “We could not have accomplished this virtual camp without the tremendous support from everyone.”

Elaine Luna credited the success of the camp to a collaborative effort with multiple partners. Adjunct faculty member Rebecca Ram served as camp coordinator, and the lead team included Las Vegas City Schools teachers Donna Ortiz and Judith Trujillo as well as Luna herself. Presenters included Cynthia Killbough, community health specialist with the UNM Clinical & Translational Science Center; Dr. Eric Griffin, NMHU assistant professor in biology; Matthew Luna, recycle artists and Rubik’s Cube enthusiast; Robertson High students Maya Luu, Amanda Bustamante, Kayla DeVries, Ashlynn Trujillo, Shayla Hillis and Tessa Ortiz; Luna STEM Director Francisco Apodaca, STEM advisor Janice Varela; Luna Admissions Director Moses Marquez. The RHS Dream Makers Health Career Club members served as moderators for each session. They included Amanda Bustamante, Leah Vigil, Liana Fernandez, Mickey Sena and Andres Grano.

Key to the camp was funding from the New Mexico state legislature through the Center for Health Innovation for the purpose of engaging youth in health career awareness and STEM activities. Rep. Tomas Salazar of San Miguel County was “instrumental” in supporting legislation for comprehensive health careers opportunity programs, said Elaine Luna.

“I feel so honored to have been a part of the virtual summer camp as a presenter,” said Killough, who was a featured part of day one. “The students were so responsive, asked really great questions, and made the experience as a whole so memorable. They are a smart, amazing, dedicated group of students. I can’t wait to hear all about their accomplishments. It was also a joy to work with Ms. Luna and Ms. Ram. I witnessed firsthand the dedicated time and effort they put into planning the virtual camp months in advance. This was really such a great experience and made my summer.”