GREENFIELD — Sarah Gumberts thrust her hand in the air with excitement. The teen had been watching intently as five of her classmates participated in a science experiment, and she wanted a turn.
Under the watchful eye of a professional scientist, each high schooler who took a turn timidly held a small flame to a balloon. Each of the balloons contained either the usual helium or a more explosive element — hydrogen; the young scientists had to guess which was trapped inside based on what happened next, a simple pop or a colorful burst of fire.
Representatives from Elanco Companion Animal Health and Covance Laboratories hoped the series of demonstrations, with their pops, bangs and beakers of bubbling liquid, would spark an interest in science and chemistry. The two dozen high school students who came to Elanco on Monday for the demonstration are members of the Boy Scouts of America’s Explorers program, which aims to expose young people to experiences in career fields ranging from arts to aviation.
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Boy Scouts of America’s Explorers program, which serves 14- to 20-year-olds, is a mentorship and career exploration program that connects young people across the country each year with professionals in their communities. Participants who enroll can select from a dozen career fields to explore, based on their interests. Organizers hope to help participants narrow down a career path before they head to college.
Explorers takes students outside of the classroom to give them a better understanding of the careers available to them, said Thom Deahl, a Covance research associate and longtime Explorers adviser. The students who complete the nine-week course are able to learn new skills, ask questions of professionals and get their hands dirty doing the same work their advisers do, he said.
During Monday’s science classes, that meant assisting with chemistry experiments, Deahl said. Eli Lilly & Co. scientist Guy Hansen walked the students through more than a dozen tests, each of which came with its own surprise demonstrating a scientific property.
The experiments are fun, but they teach real-world concepts that apply to the job, organizers said.
Sarah, a New Palestine High School student, joined the program for the first time this week. As she walked to front of the classroom to take her turn in the experiment, she took stock of what she’d already observed: three balloons had simply popped when the match got too close, a sign they were filled with helium; two others burst into a ball of fire, a sure signal of the presence of hydrogen.
The sixth balloon was left for Sarah. And, sure enough, with a loud bang, the final hydrogen-filled balloon burst into flames. As a junior, she already knows she wants to work in a science-centered career, and Monday’s lesson only helped affirm that — it was interesting, surprising and fun all at the same time, she said.
“Are my eyebrows still here?” she quipped to her younger sister, Audrey, after she’d returned to her seat.
More than 28 organizations have set up Explorer programs, called posts, across the state, and each post gets to choose its focus. Elanco and Covance, the county’s two largest health sciences industries, have teamed up since the early 2000s to jointly host a science-based Explorers program each year, Deahl said.
The monthly lessons focus on a variety of topics centered on science, technology, engineering and math, said Sarah Pelko, a spokeswoman for the Boys Scouts of America.
Also offered in Greenfield is the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department law enforcement Explorers’ program, Pelko said. About a dozen teens are selected by sheriff’s department leaders to participate in the explorer’s program each year, where they job-shadow deputies and help to provide security at countywide events.
Sitting in the back of the classroom, watching the experiments unfold, Greg Gumberts of New Palestine watched his daughters, Sarah and Audrey, with a smile. When signing them up for the course, he knew they each had an interest in science, but wanted them to learn more about the careers in the field before they made a final decision about what to study in college.
“It’s great exposure to what’s really out there,” he said.