Press Release

Former Astronaut to Encourage Students to Shoot for The Stars

By SpaceRef Editor
July 1, 2007
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Growing up black in 1960s Texas might have put Bernard Harris a little far from the stars than he wanted to be.

But when he found a mentor in a black physician, and heard the country’s first physician-astronaut, speak at his high school, his path became clear.

Almost 40 years later, Harris, a surgeon and the first black astronaut to conduct a space walk, hopes he can inspire 32 fifth and sixth graders who spent the past two-weeks at Florida International University immersed in science.

Dr. Harris will speak to the students and their parents at 1:30 p.m. today at the Green Library, room 165, on FIU’s University Park, 11200 SW 8th Street.

After Harris’ presentation, the students will compete in a race of rafts that they designed and built during their two-week camp at FIU. The camp was sponsored by The Harris Foundation and the ExxonMobil Foundation.

“Unfortunately minorities in the United States are underrepresented in the quantitative sciences and by the time we reach them in high school it’s often already too late,” said camp director Berrin Tansel, an FIU environmental engineering professor. “We hope this camp will encourage these students to dream big.”

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, minorities represent 28 percent of the U.S. population. But according to the National Action Committee for Minorities in Engineering, only about 10 percent of those who receive bachelor’s degrees in engineering are members of a minority group. In addition, the nation as a whole is relying increasingly in foreign-born professionals in the quantitative sciences.

The camp is part of a program funded by Harris and ExxonMobil in 20 different universities nationwide. Specifically designed to get minority students interested in the sciences, the camps give students an opportunity to work along side scientists and college students on projects such as building robots, making rafts and designing rocket.

The students participating in the FIU program are from African American, Hispanic and Asian backgrounds and many come from low-income families.

“This is the first time we host this program, but given the success we’ve had we would like to keep doing it,” Tansel said. “Also, we will be tracking many of these students to gauge the long-term effectiveness of the curriculum. I would love to see one of these children in a space mission years from now.”

For more information on The Harris Foundation go to and to learn more about Exxon’s programs go to University

SpaceRef staff editor.