Diana Anaid Salas’ childhood dream was to become an educator, a dream sparked by watching her mother in the classroom.

Today, the incoming senior at Brownsville’s Pace High School is following in her mother’s footsteps and hopes to serve her community by bringing more educational opportunities to the area.

Along with 32 other high school students from varying districts, Salas focused on those goals in a recent weeklong camp, part of the UTRGV Those Who Can, Teach program. The camp is designed to help high school students explore the prospect of a career in education through activities that examine the characteristics and best practices of teaching.

“There are so many communities around the world that don’t allow everyone to have an education,” Salas said. “I want to help more kids be aware of the importance of education, and help arrange programs that will help more kids learn new things.”

Dr. Renee Corbeil, Brownsville camp coordinator and associate professor of educational technology in the UTRGV College of Education and P-16 Integration, said camp coordinators envisioned a way to influence students early in their thought processes.

“We came up with this weeklong summer camp, focusing on specific themes and more inward-seeking activities, to help bring that passion out,” he said.

The camp is run by the UTRGV College of Education and P-16 Integration in collaboration with the UTRGV Continuing Education Department. In its third year, the camp is split between the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses, which allows more students from more districts to participate.

This year, the camp had 33 students for the Brownsville camp and 27 for Edinburg. The Edinburg camp ran from June 4-8, while the Brownsville camp ran from June 11-15.

The activities included icebreaker exercises to encourage students to engage with one another, a Q&A session with two Teacher of the Year recipients, several interactive projects using iPads and other forms of new media, and a cumulative action research project video focusing on the four major themes of the camp:

Why do I want to be a teacher?

What are the characteristics of great teachers?

What does great teaching look like?

How do I become a teacher?

Dr. Maria Elena Corbeil, also a Brownsville camp coordinator and associate professor of educational technology in the UTRGV College of Education and P-16 Integration, said one of the biggest benefits of this camp is that it brings together students from different schools and districts.

“The first day is always awkward, but by the second day, they are all working with each other as if they’ve known each other for years,” she said. “We moderate the activities and projects, but ultimately, this is all creatively theirs.”

For example, one activity students used for their research was to interview the Brownsville ISD Teacher of the Year, Elizabeth Janette Lozano, and Weslaco ISD’s Monica Sifuentes, named Teacher of the Year by the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts (TCTELA).

The students were tasked with creating 40 potential questions to interview the teachers based on their experiences in their respective fields. After a vote from peers in the camp, students were able to decide on 10 questions.

“The morning of the interview, some students wanted to back out because they were a bit shy to interview the teachers,” Maria Elena Corbeil said. “But by the time the interview came around, they wanted to try on their own.”

“We are able to encourage students to step outside their comfort zones without the pressures of grades or performance measures. They can flourish based on their own talents,” she said.

Prior to the camp, many students hadn’t used an iPad or worked with apps like iMovie or Canva, a graphic design app, so the camps are prepared to provide incoming campers with some of the latest technology available to professional teachers.

“We give them team building exercises, and they’re able to sharpen their skills in technology since we try to provide a wide range of it,” said Dr. Steve Chamberlain, Brownsville camp coordinator and professor of special education in the UTRGV Department of Human Development and School Services.

“One thing we really like about these camps is, it’s not just focused on one thing but several things that help them develop their professional skills,” he said.