On Monday, May 8, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center provided their annual update on the Saunders Science Scholars, a science enrichment and mentorship initiative named in honor of the late educator, Benjamin C. Saunders, Sr., during the monthly scheduled Gates County Board of Education meeting. The Saunders Science Scholars program provides regularly scheduled science activities, college tours, summer camps, and volunteer opportunities to twenty-eight 9th and 10th graders at Gates County High School.

“We feel like it is an obligation to present the remarkable achievements of the Saunders Science Scholars on a regular basis. We are exceedingly proud as they are doing great things,” emphasized Dr. Crystal Harden of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. “Our journey with the Saunders Science Scholars will go on through college and we will continue to provide science programming to the entire Gates County community.”

Over the past year, participants took part in numerous extracurricular activities. Examples include summer camps at Elizabeth City State University, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and the Salk Institute of Biological Studies. Scholars presented “Saturdays of Science,” a monthly science expo targeted to elementary school students, at Buckland Elementary School, Gatesville Elementary School, and T. S. Cooper Elementary School. Saunders Science Scholars also achieved academically, as the Fall 2022 average GPAs of the 9th and 10th grade cohorts were 3.85 and 3.68, respectfully.

“Kudos to our Scholars for recognizing their responsibility of being their best! We will remain supportive as they pursue their purpose and passions,” stated Benjamin C. Saunders, Jr. of Gates County Community Partnership.

There will be some changes in the program for the 2023-2024 school year. “Saturdays of Science” will be done in a “pop-up” fashion, where Scholars will “pop-up” at community events like football games, open houses, family nights, and parent teacher nights. Participants will also take part in monthly meetings involving guests delivering talks on education/college, social development, and careers.

This summer, all Saunders Science Scholars are required to participate in two weeklong events: Opening “GATES”, a college readiness initiative that includes ACT Prep, youth development, and college visits, and a college tour of UNC-Greensboro, NC A&T State University, Wake Forest University, and Winston Salem State University.

Saunders mentioned he is grateful Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is keeping his father’s legacy alive with such an amazing program, as it exemplifies all his father was about. “Nothing mattered to him more than the betterment of his community, and prioritizing education is the way.”

The Saunders Science Scholars was modeled after Morehead’s family science enrichment program, which encourages young people and their families to get more involved with science. The program is part of outreach initiatives that address gaps in STEM education across North Carolina, specifically in rural communities. This experience is provided at no cost to Gates County and its participants.