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Foundational 㽶ֱcamp for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder opens college doors, increases access to higher education

Contact: Sam Kealhofer

Portrait of Ben Crider in a lab at MSU
Associate Professor Ben Crider of MSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy oversees an interactive summer experience for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder—possibly the only physics camp of its kind in the U.S. (Photo by Beth Wynn)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Building on the previous two years of success, Mississippi State again is offering a highly interactive summer experience for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder—possibly the only camp of its kind in the U.S.—which now has proven a successful camp-to-college path for participants.

This week [June 9-14], the residential camp is hosting 18 high-school age students with ASD for science-based, hands-on demonstrations, seeing creativity at work in research centers and playing games that drive home scientific concepts. The students are learning about aerodynamics, astronomy, electricity, geosciences, nuclear physics and robotics, among other topics, leading to the “Physics Olympics” daylong activity this Friday [June 14].    

Ben Crider, associate professor in MSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and camp director, said many students with ASD may find courses focusing on science and related fields particularly appealing and the camp is now helping ASD students find a pathway to college.

“The opportunity to explore interesting topics in a university setting has already had a strong impact on former students who participated in the camp, as feedback from former camp participants indicates that several have decided to pursue a college degree as a result of attending our camp,” he said.

Crider said the university’s resources for students with disabilities and cross-departmental collaboration to make this camp a reality is a testament to how faculty and staff work to ensure students have the best experiences possible—whether enrolled in a camp or in university coursework. He said a primary goal of the summer program is to inform students of the “great resources that exist at a four-year university like Mississippi State.”

“The physics summer school is designed to offer students with ASD a comprehensive postsecondary transition and to teach them physics and socialization skills. This is also a way for them to learn about research projects and consider the option of pursuing a STEM degree at a four-year university,” Crider said.    

“This year, the camp is introducing new topics within geosciences while also a new approach to some aerodynamics topics that focus even more on hands-on activities,” Crider said.

The camp is funded through a prestigious $600,000 National Science Foundation CAREER program grant awarded to Crider in 2019. The NSF project is jointly funded by its Experimental Nuclear Physics Program and the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, known as EPSCoR.

In developing the camp, Crider collaborated with colleagues across campus, including the College of Education’s Dan Gadke, head of MSU’s Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Foundations, and Kasee Stratton-Gadke, director of the T.K. Martin Center for Technology and Disability. Both serve on the project’s advisory board and are co-founders of MSU’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic. Fellow camp organizers include MSU’s Kathryn McTaggart as associate camp director, and Abby Kendricks, Tracy Wilcox, and Brooks Olree as camp coordinators.

Crider additionally worked closely with faculty and staff in MSU’s ACCESS Program, the Department of Geosciences, High Voltage Laboratory, Institute for Clean Energy Technology, ISWD Virtual Reality Lab, MAXX South Digital Lab in Mitchell Memorial Library, as well as Louis Wasson from the 㽶ֱGeosystems Research Institute.

For more details about MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Physics, visit Ի.

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