Posted on Jul 21, 2002

As the class on laser cooling ended, the high school students crowded around the front of the Union College classroom, dipping flowers and balloons into liquid nitrogen, then smashing them to bits.

They had gasped in awe as Professor Chad Orzel poured some of the liquid nitrogen onto the table in front of him, causing the liquid to turn into steam the moment it hit the tabletop. When the discussion on the movement of atoms slowed, Orzel randomly tossed a racquetball at students to illustrate the random movements.

It was an attention-grabbing lesson, and that was the point. The 103 students — mostly from minority families or the first person in their family to college — are spending this weekend getting a chance to see what attending a university would be like.

“I think it is very interesting. It gives you the perspective of what college is going to be like,” said Kay Brown, a Scotia-Glenville High School Senior. “Now I know what the classes are going to be like, where the dorms are, and what it's going to be like living there.”

The students are participating in “Camp College,” a weekend visit that includes choosing two of six 45-minute courses, which covered everything from “The Mathematics of Elections” to “Islam and the Democracy in the Middle East.” The students stay in the dorms, eat in the cafeteria, and get lessons in college-essay writing and study skills.

Each student is accompanied by a mentor from either their high school or a community organization. College admissions counselors from 30 private and public universities participate as well. Kelly Herrington, associate dean of admissions at Union, organized the third annual event. It is a project funded in part from grants from the New York State Association for College Admissions Counseling.

“We all had this brainstorm and worked on it together,” he said.

This year, the number of students attending was more than double the last two years.

Kate Kreiss, a guidance counselor at Herricks High School in New Hyde Park, Nassau County, worked with Herrington on starting the program.

“Maybe this will give them a taste of honey, that push to make them go further,” she said.

Diane Johnson, director of guidance and social services at Lawrence High School, Nassau County, was attending for the first time, too. She said it was important for the students to see they can fit in at college and won't be the only minorities on campus.

Amanda Serrano, an Albany High School freshman, said the campus visit solidified her goal to get to college.

“I like the fact we can see what college is like before we can go,” she said.

For many of the students, the laser-cooling was the highlight of the day.

“He had a sense of humor,” Elizabeth Lyker, a sophomore from Canajoharie, said.  She also was impressed by the living space on campus. “The dorms were neat.  I was surprised.”

Maurice Berkeley of the Bronx lingered after the lesson to freeze some flowers and watch how they became brittle and broke when he struck them against a table. “I was pretty amazed how that liquid nitrogen evaporated when it hit the desk,” he said.

Berkeley said he is pretty certain he will enter the Air Force, but the weekend on campus had him thinking about college. “I might consider it now,” he said.