Did you know that it takes 150 gallons of water to make a slice of ooey-gooey cheese pizza? And if you top it off with some crispy slices of pepperoni, it takes double the amount of H2O?
Fifth graders from local elementary schools will learn these and other science facts through a variety of engaging, hands-on experiments during UNLV’s Rebel Science Camp.
“They’ll learn why that is, what goes into everything that we consume, and how it makes an impact on the Earth,” said camp founder and UNLV scientist Alison Sloat, adding that it’s surprising for not only the students — but also adults — to consider all of the steps that it takes to get that pizza to your front door.
“You have to grow the wheat for the dough, and the tomatoes to make the sauce,” Sloat said. “You need cows to produce the cheese, and trucks to transport the ingredients. And a box to deliver the pizza! And when you add meat to anything, it makes your water footprint grow incredibly.”
Rebel Science Camp is an outreach program offered annually by faculty and student leaders in the College of Sciences at UNLV. Sloat and fellow UNLV scientist Javier Rodriguez started the program in 2017 as a way to bring STEM education to young learners in some of the highest-need schools in Clark County, and at a critical age.
“It’s a good time to catch them and help develop their interest in science,” said Sloat. “A lot of research shows that students lose interest in the sciences once they enter middle school.”
To date, the camp has served 667 students. But this year, through funding and three community sponsors — Mission Support and Test Services, Rotary of Southwest Las Vegas and Cox — UNLV has been able to expand the program to eight days and to nearly 550 local fifth graders. This year’s camp will also reach two new elementary schools: Lake Elementary School and Carson Elementary School, both in Las Vegas.
“The first year, we weren’t sure if it was going to work,” Sloat said. “At the time, schools had to pay for bus transportation, and it was a barrier to participation. But with the support we've received recently from the community, we’ve been able to expand every year. It’s been our goal from the start.”
During the half-day event, elementary school students take part in four science-based activities which are taught by UNLV student leaders. The exercises expose students to different fields of the natural sciences and promote critical thinking.
The activities also feature some of kids’ favorite things in order to get them energized about science — energized in a way that they want to take science home with them to share with siblings and other family members.
“We use a lot of food in our experiments at Rebel Science Camp,” Sloat said. “And they’re fairly simple exercises so that the students feel empowered to go home and teach their siblings what they learned.”
At camp, students “mine” cookies to learn about geology and mineral extraction. Using cereal, students build an aquifer to learn what happens during times of drought.
The activities are also led by a diverse group of UNLV students who are all pursuing STEM degrees. Sloat wants the young learners to not only have fun, but to get energized about the possibility of pursuing a career in STEM and attaining a postsecondary education — perhaps even right in their backyard at UNLV.
“This may be the first time these fifth graders have ever met someone who has been to college,” she said. “And because our students are from diverse backgrounds, the kids are able to see themselves in those students. They talk about the importance of going to college and getting good grades, and becoming a college graduate.”
Hanging in her office is a thank-you note from a student who attended camp the first year.
It’s a picture of a student attending UNLV in 2023, signed by Diego.