PacificQuest and PQ Rise Programs Inspire Next Generation to Soar in STEM

By Laura Gang on November 13, 2023

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Students set things on fire. They studied cadavers. They explored marine life on the Pacific Coast. And they came away with an experience and friends that will last a lifetime.


Pacific Union College continues to host its annual PacificQuest and PQ Rise summer camp series, which offers pre-collegiate students a hands-on introduction to the sciences.

PacficQuest and PQ Rise are one-week summer sessions for curious and dedicated students who have a passion for STEM subjects and seek academic challenges while earning college credit. Participants engage in daily educational activities, enjoy recreational opportunities, and partake in team-building activities and evening events.


This year, PUC hosted 30 students representing 19 schools from across the U.S., including Monterey Bay Academy, La Sierra Academy, Pine Hills Adventist Academy, and Calistoga Jr./Sr. High School.


Aimee Wyrick, dean of PUC’s School of Sciences, said these programs are centered on the students—challenging them academically and allowing them to meet like-minded students and build social and team skills.

“We offer students an immersive experience, propelling students far beyond the encounters in the typical elementary or secondary classrooms,” Wyrick said. “They learn to collaborate with one another, interact directly with college faculty, and get to know current PUC students who serve as camp counselors. Students get a taste of college life while building lasting memories.”

Madeline Eastman, a junior biology and pre-med major at PUC, welcomed Wyrick’s invitation to be a girls’ counselor for both programs. She said the professors keep the classes fun and entertaining for everyone, including herself. “One of the most memorable moments at PacificQuest was in the general chemistry lab when Dr. (Kent) Davis and Dr. (Robert) Wilson showed us a bunch of explosions,” she said. “I could tell all the students were thoroughly enjoying themselves!”

This summer marked the 28th year of PacificQuest for grades 6-8 students and the fifth year of PQ Rise for grades 9-11.

Robert Wilson, PUC professor of chemistry, taught PacificQuest middle school students about reactions and how to make them happen faster.

“We set many things on fire, but especially thermite,” Wilson said. “This reaction is between iron (III) oxide and aluminum powder. The result is molten iron metal and aluminum oxide. This reaction is often used to weld railroad tracks.”

Wilson said students also learned about fireworks and what gives them their brilliant colors. Students were later treated to an amazing fireworks show in St. Helena to end their day.

PUC created PQ Rise as a next-step program for high school students interested in STEM fields. The program aims to inspire students to pursue college and careers in these fields. It facilitates connections among students even after they age out of PacificQuest, helping them explore science and the PUC campus.

Georgia Bullard, a senior at Sequim High School in Washington state who attended PQ Rise for several summers, enjoyed the hands-on activities, including the opportunity to study a cadaver.

Zvi Weber, a junior at Mountain View Academy, has been attending PQ Rise for the past three years. Weber said the labs were his favorite part of the program—especially looking at a range of cells under a microscope.

Educators also benefit from the experience.

Brian Snarr has been teaching high school math and science classes at Central Valley Christian Academy (CVCA) for nearly 25 years.

Snarr appreciates the varied topics students get exposure to and the expertise of the PUC professors they meet. “It also gives a chance for students to try different departments and equipment around campus while interacting with various teachers,” he said. “I like how the scientific method is emphasized in all areas. It really helps students to develop their curiosity but also work on strengthening their research and defending positions.”

Snarr has been taking students to the camps for years and urges other educators to take part in PacificQuest and PQ Rise.

“Do it!” said Snarr, who had three of his own children take part in the program. “The experience is amazing for students. They learn and grow in so many ways. They make friends they see later in college and on trips. They are challenged academically and grow socially in a wonderful environment where creativity, brain power, and fun are all celebrated.”

In keeping with PUC’s emphasis on holistic experiences, both camps offer many recreational, spiritual, and social activities in addition to the planned courses.

Eastman said the counselors and students enjoyed recreational activities such as volleyball, basketball, swimming, rock climbing, and more. “We took high schoolers to hike at Linda Falls, had water balloon fights and karaoke nights,” she said. “Honestly, just having meals with the students and hanging out with them was very memorable. You can’t put a price on creating new friendships and building community. Overall, it was the highlight of my summer.”

For Weber, one of the best aspects of the program is making lifelong friends. “My favorite part of PQ Rise,” he said, “was definitely bonding with all of the people I had never even met before, who I now think of as really close friends.”

Bullard agrees and encourages any student who is interested in STEM and making connections to apply.

“PQ Rise is an amazing program! If you go, you will get a taste of real college classes and get credit for them!” she said. “The best part, however, is definitely the activities and the friends. PQ Rise has a work hard/play hard mentality, which will leave you exhausted by the end of the week, but it is so worth it for the memories, the experiences, and the knowledge.”

PacificQuest 2024 will run on the PUC campus from June 23 to 28, and PQ Rise 2024 will run from June 30 to July 5 at Albion Field Station. PacificQuest’s theme this year will be engineering, zoology, and creative writing, while PQ Rise will focus on marine life and art.

For more information about PacificQuest and PQ Rise 2024 and to apply, visit