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Jacob Bear grabbed the iPad and used it to direct the small robotic vehicle expertly across the floor of a studio Tuesday in the former 4-H Building at Nebraska Innovation Campus.

Bear, a 17-year-old Winnebago High School senior, joined nearly 40 Native students from across Nebraska and beyond for the fifth annual Sovereign Native Youth Leadership Academy this week.

“It’s just the best camp ever,” he said. “You get to learn all this new stuff, make new friends. That’s what I’m doing.”

The Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs hosts the academy, which also receives funding from private and public donors.

The academy began Monday and ends Friday. It is being held at Doane College in Crete, though students visited the State Capitol and Innovation Campus Tuesday to hear from state leaders and learn about science research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

This year’s academy is focused on educating the students about potential careers in science.

“We want to get these kids to college,” said Judi M. gaiashkibos, director of the Commission on Indian Affairs.

She said she hopes the camp also teaches the students to become leaders within their tribes.

“They can go home with stories, friendships, dreams and will believe they can be anything they want to be," she said.

Lt. Gov. Mike Foley talked to the students about the governor’s efforts to increase protections for unborn children, gain approval for legislative bills and ease prison overcrowding.

One student asked him why state officials simply don’t build a new prison.

“That’s an idea,” Foley said. “We’re trying to control state spending.”

Later, the students visited Innovation Campus, where UNL scientists taught them about laser cutting, mold making, screen printing, nanotechnology and robotics.

Chris Cornelius, a chemical engineering professor, used Silly Putty to demonstrate the differences between liquids, solids and gases. He said Silly Putty appears to be solid but its ability to spread over time proves that it's a liquid.

“That’s cool, right?” he said.

Outside the 4-H Building, journalism professor Matt Waite demonstrated physics and aerial photography using a kite with a camera attached to it. However, he struggled to get the kite airborne on a relatively still summer day.

“You can’t control the wind,” he said.

The kite eventually caught the wind, and the camera  captured “selfies” of the students below.

Courtney Thomas, a 16-year-old Santee Sioux student, said the academy has shown her how other tribes interpret effective leadership and has given her ideas on how she can help her tribe one day.

She said she plans to become a dietitian, having worked as a dietary aide for her tribe and having helped her sister, who suffers from Type 1 diabetes.

“You get to learn more about everybody else,” she said of the academy. “You learn their different kinds of traditions.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7225 or On Twitter @LJS_Abourezk.


I'm a Journal Star night editor and father of five.

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