Twelve-year-old Jacob Mekker’s favorite viral video on YouTube is Charlie the Unicorn, a short animated adventure about a reluctant gray unicorn on an adventure to Candy Mountain with his two flighty, pastel counterparts. On June 29, he got the chance to make his own YouTube video.

Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool) Director of Undergraduate Recruitment Julie Walas ’07 and graduate student Alyssa Henry ’10 taught Mekker and 10 other students how to make the video during a session on informatics in the Science Horizons summer camp. The annual camp is held at SU and sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb.

“My favorite part of camp was making the video,” said Mekker, who just graduated from Roxboro Road Elementary School in North Syracuse.

Mekker is one of 40 Syracuse-area middle school students chosen to participate in the week-long summer camp that showcases many of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Throughout the week, the students travelled to different locations, from the Cortland Fire Department to Butternut Creek to the Bristol-Meyer Squibb pharmaceutical lab to the iSchool computer labs, to learn about the science of fire, macro invertebrates, prescription drugs and social media technology, among other scientific areas.

“Studies have shown that students start to rule out different careers as early as middle school, “ Walas said. “We want to show them that technology and other sciences are cool.”

To do that, Walas recruited Henry, who graduated from the Newhouse School of Public Communications in May and starts the M.S. in Information Management program at the iSchool this fall, to help her teach a class on informatics. They showed the students a YouTube video on the power of social media and how to protect themselves online. They also demonstrated how to make “crazy faces” with Photoshop.

“This was a great opportunity to allow the participants to be creative and show us what they were learning,” Henry said. “Middle school students have such a strong understanding and interest in technology, and it was rewarding to be able to show them different ways they could continue to grow those interests into a career one day.”

After dividing the students into two groups, each group was assigned the task of creating their own video and uploading it to the Science Horizons blog, a space moderated by Henry where the students could log in and post summaries and their thoughts of the day’s activities for anyone to read.

“We thought we were pretty cool when we had a web site, but thanks to the iSchool, we have a blog and Facebook,” said Sandra Barrett, director of community programs at Syracuse University’s University College who organized the Science Horizons day camp. “We’re going to use Facebook to keep in touch with our alumni to see where they are in four years when they’re looking at colleges.”

Mekker said the camp definitely opened up new possibilities for him. He was previously thinking about engineering, but after Science Horizons, he needed to do more research on STEM careers. His mother commented that his ideal career would be a host of Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel.

Though Mekker and his fellow campmates saw a daisy shattered after exposed to liquid nitrogen and learned how to artfully tie dye a tee-shirt beyond using primitive rubber bands, Mekker said the overall most rewarding part of the camp was meeting new people.

“We’re all friend requesting each other,” he said. “I requested to join the Science Horizons Facebook group, but I don’t know if they’ve accepted me yet.”