Summer Expeditions campers

Summer Expeditions campers gather with representatives from Columbia College, Columbia Public Schools and State Farm Insurance after the Summer Expeditions Celebration Ceremony at Launer Auditorium on June 24.

As the video played on the big screen, titters of recognition started echoing from the center seating section of Launer Auditorium on the campus of Columbia College.

The Summer Expeditions campers, around 60 fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders from Columbia Public Schools, had pulled a bit of a prank earlier in the day. At the Dulany Hall cafeteria, in the middle of the lunch hour, a bunch of the bright orange-shirted campers jumped out of their seats and formed a “flash mob.”

They sang along and danced to songs from High School Musical and the Hannah Montana movie. Watching video of the “mob” about two hours later, campers laughed with their compatriots whose choreography was a tad off from the rest of the group. They celebrated the student who, to wrap up the performance, started “Dabbing” left and right, a dance move popularized by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

Sitting in Launer Auditorium for the Summer Expeditions Celebration Ceremony on June 24, the students commemorated a month of learning and making new friends, one that featured a week on Columbia College’s campus to get a taste of what higher education is like.

Oh, and they had some fun during that time, too. Dr. Terry Smith, Columbia College professor of Political Science and head of the school’s honors program, reinforced that last point while decked out in full academic regalia.

“I wear it to honor you and to symbolize the fact that this is college for you for today,” Smith said.

“This robe and hood, they’re just clothes. What is the most important thing for you to remember is that it’s what’s inside that counts,” he concluded, opening his gown to reveal a Summer Expeditions shirt underneath.

Smith joined with former Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher in 2010 to bring a week of the annual Summer Expeditions program to Columbia College’s campus, giving participants the chance to learn from the school’s faculty and dip their toes into all college life has to offer. Current superintendent Dr. Peter Stiepleman had a hand in the creation of Summer Expeditions, with the aim of helping expand academic horizons for traditionally under-represented groups of students.

This year, 20 rising fifth-graders, 17 sixth-graders and 18 seventh-graders took part in the celebration ceremony. During their time on campus, they took classes in subjects such as art, music, creative writing, mathematics and environmental science, in conjunction with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.

Any seventh grader who “graduates” from the program and gains admittance to Columbia College after high school will receive a $2,500 annual scholarship if he or she chooses to go to the school, renewable for four years for a total of $10,000.

“This became a district-wide tradition, that it was OK to be smart and important for our kids to get to know each other so that, when they ended up at high school together, they start taking AP courses together, honors courses together and support each other as they move on toward their college or career paths,” Stiepleman said. “I am so proud of you, our Summer Expeditions kids.”

State Farm Insurance has sponsored the camp for the past three years, after bestowing a grant of $16,100 to Columbia College in 2014. Kevin Gamble, State Farm’s community specialist for Missouri and Kansas, said education is one of the main emphases of the company’s philanthropic efforts, along with safety and community development.

Gamble, sales leader Ryan Kenney, agent Justin Hahn and media specialist Jim Camoriano were in attendance for this year’s ceremony.

“The main focus in our philanthropy programs is investing in safer, stronger and better-educated communities — helping people plan for the future and achieve their dreams,” Gamble said. “Investing in and supporting this program is a great way for all these students and their families to focus on something that they can aspire to.

“One of the key aspects of our focus on education is making sure we’re working toward access to education for all. I think that this program, Summer Expeditions, is a great example of that, because it specifically focuses on connecting students to an opportunity they might not otherwise realize is there for them.”