ATHENAS (Aiming to Heighten Her Experience Near and Around Science) and BLAST (Boys Learning About Science Together) are enrichment programs for middle schoolers from Knox County and surrounding areas. These “science saturday” programs bring 6th-8th graders to campus to participate in non-traditional science experiments, interact with Kenyon students, and, importantly, have fun. Each fall and spring, sessions are held for both programs, with ~150 participants each year. The sessions, which last about five hours, are designed so that participants can attend every year without ever repeating an experiment, and include snacks, lunch, and many hands-on activities. This is a free program to enable any child interested in STEM to participate regardless of financial means. Students who have “graduated” to high school are invited back to serve as Ambassadors, helping run the sessions alongside Kenyon students.
ATHENAS and BLAST reach students from all walks of life. Many participants are repeat attendees or siblings of previous participants. The programs rely on more than 40 Kenyon student volunteers to run the sessions. In response to the pandemic, and therefore in lieu of in-person sessions, program staff developed and acquired materials for 7th and 8th grade science teachers at Mount Vernon Middle School during the 2020-21 academic year, ultimately reaching close to 600 students. These programs provide unique opportunities to engage with science experiments not typically taught in middle school classes, and to interact with STEM college students and faculty, who serve as role models and mentors. Students are empowered to ask “what if…?” and have the space and resources to actually discover answers. Few if any programs like Kenyon’s exist specifically for middle school students, including those at under-resourced schools and homeschool programs.