NERDs program prepares students for college


Story by Bailey Conklin, Sports Editor

The NERDs program at Baker University looks to flip the script on generic summer courses. Soon-to-be seniors in high school and incoming college freshmen can ease their transition while earning academic credit and learning leadership skills.

What was once known as the Summer Bridge Program, first started in 2011, has taken on the new name of NERDs, which stands for Nature, Explore, Research, Design. The program focuses on skills inside and outside of the classroom.

The two classes currently being taught in the month-long NERDs program are Human Genetics and Digital Media.

Carrie Coward Bucher, the director of the program, says these courses are good fits because the Human Genetics class is usually more hands-on than many students are accustomed to, and Digital Media ties in well with the group’s trip to Colorado and gives students an opportunity to generate content.

Included in the program is a one-week trip to the Colorado Outward Bound School, where current students recently had a chance to whitewater raft and explore nature away from phones and other electronic distractions.

Coward Bucher hopes this addition to the NERDs program becomes a selling point for the future of the program. Many of the students in the program are Kauffman Scholars. A grant from Kauffman Scholars Inc. and money from Baker University currently fund the program, but after 2017 the grant will no longer be in effect.

The trip to Colorado is an attempt to make the NERDs program self-funding once the grant runs out.

While Kauffman Scholars make up a large portion of the enrollment in the NERDs program, the program is open to any elite students who are interested.

Incoming freshman Kimberly Villegas is currently in the Digital Media class taught by Associate Professor of Mass Media Dave Bostwick. She said the class is challenging, and she enjoys the “aha moments” that come with learning new concepts.

The Colorado trip was a new experience for her and helped her appreciate nature when she disconnected from her phone.

“You really get to know yourself out there,” Villegas said. “People were more honest.”

Shane McFadden said that when all the technology was taken away during the trip, all the participants could do was talk to one another.

“You get to know a lot of people and they get to know you,” McFadden said. “You get to bond. I would do it again.”

McFadden is in the Human Genetics course taught by Associate Professor of Biology Erin Morris and will be attending Baker next fall. He plans to enter the nursing program and believes that he is better prepared after being in class with Morris.

“I can’t wait to come here,” he said. “Most of the people (in NERDs) are coming here, so I’ll have those connections so you can use those to befriend others,” McFadden said.

Students planning on going elsewhere than Baker have also enjoyed their time on campus.

Kauffman scholar Kelly Hawj plans on attending Wichita State University to concentrate on lab science classes and has enjoyed the switch to college-level coursework. Along with the coursework, she has grown used to the independence she has found living in the dorms.

“It’s important to self-discipline,” Hawj said.

As for the Colorado trip, she said it was very fun once she got comfortable with it.

“I fell out of the boat,” Kelly said. “It was fun living life outside your bubble.”

With the 2016 classes almost completed, Coward Bucher is currently making plans for the June 2017 NERDs session.