Celebrating a summer of science education
After a two-year hiatus of either Virginia Tech College of Science summer camps and events being moved online or outright cancelled, the College camps came roaring back in 2022.
Nearly 160 high school and middle school students attended one of four youth camps, with 46 at Explore Science for 7th-9th graders, and – all geared toward 11th-12th graders – 35 participants at Explore Data Science, 32 at Explore Physical Science, and 45 at Explore Life Science. Student participants came from across Virginia and as far away as Connecticut.
Leading the camps was Victoria Corbin, assistant dean for outreach and student engagement for the College of Science. She was assisted by scores of graduate and undergraduate student assistants, and numerous faculty and instructors who gave of their time to demonstrate science in action.
“I am especially proud of the faculty and staff of the four camps for giving the kids an amazing array of hands-on learning opportunities. When I asked the campers to tell me their favorite activities during the camp, a lot of them said everything,” Corbin said. “The campers themselves were really fun to work with -- they were so eager to learn new things and they did learn. When I asked them how we could improve the camps, their main comment was to make them longer. They didn’t want to leave. And that comes back to the fabulous faculty and staff who made learning and the adventure of testing out college life fun and rewarding.”
Added Corbin, “We did a great job of helping the kids imagine themselves studying different types of science and entering different types of careers -- including ones that they didn’t know existed before camps.” One particularly memorable moment came where middle school students from a session on neuroscience when students wore plastic goggles that skewed their vision and they were then instructed to throw small balls into a trashcan. The lesson: We can quickly retrain our brain to adopt to our visual cortex.
The camps were sponsored in part by alumni and friends of College of Science and the Virginia Bioscience Foundation.
The College of Science also was a proud participant in this summer’s Black Collegiate Institute (BCI). According to Jess Hoopengardner, who co-led College of Science activities within BCI, “Between the two in person BCI events, we had around 300 participants.”
Hoopengardner said among the highlights were demos by Amanda Morris, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry, and Henry Hilgendorf, the lab demonstration manager in the Department of Physics. “Students also got to go to the Duck Pond with the Invasive Species group and handle crawfish caught from the pond,” she added.
Corbin also helped oversee the Academy of Integrated Science (AIS) Nanoscience Teacher Training Workshop for science teachers of students grades 8-12. More than 50 teachers from across the state attended the three-day workshop which was comprised of 11 different sessions, Corbin said.
Sessions included computational thinking in chemistry and physics; the chemistry and physics of drying (just how does evaporation happen?); soil ecology; quantum computing; and “battle of the bacteria” -- a computer simulation of how bacteria compete and evolve to suit their environments.
A total of nine College of Science faculty participated in teacher workshops. “They provided some wonderful new lessons for teachers to use in their classrooms and the college sent the teachers home with supplies to do those lessons,” Corbin said. “After two school years disrupted by COVID, it was great for teachers to physically get together and learn some fun new science to share with their students.”
Among the participating teachers was Kristen Cox (’16, biological sciences) who took AIS courses doing her time as an undergraduate. In a June interview, she said, “I'm really grateful that Virginia Tech offered this to teachers. It's a really cool thing to have a free workshop that you could come to, learn, get resources through.”
The Virginia Space Grant Consortium subsidized the teachers’ travel expenses.