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Young scientists fly in to Charleston

By By Jack Suntrup
Staff Writer
LAWRENCE PIERCE | Saturday Gazette-Mail
Delegates to the 51st National Youth Science Camp arrive at Yeager Airport on Friday. The annual gathering in Pocahontas County lasts four weeks.
LAWRENCE PIERCE | Saturday Gazette-Mail Litawn Gan, of Southern California, checks his bag after a

More than 100 young scientists landed Friday at Yeager Airport on their way to rural Pocahontas County for the 51st National Youth Science Camp.

The students are the best of the best, as far as academics go. Two students from each state and a few Latin American countries were chosen by their governors or embassies to attend the camp.

As the first group of students got off a flight from Charlotte, N.C., Friday morning, it was clear that friendships had already been made.

“The main reason why I’m here is because I love meeting new people,” Brexton Pham, of Georgia, said. “It’s four weeks away. You’re basically unplugged. And it’s nice to just to meet people in an environment where you’re not always surrounded by technology.”

In addition to attending lectures, delegates will go biking, backpacking and do other activities throughout the four weeks. They’ll also travel to Washington, D.C., to talk to a panel of scientists from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science and policymakers.

The focus of the camp is STEM-heavy. This is, delegates will be exposed to new subjects within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics realms.

The career goals of the delegates are impressive. Some say they want to be biomedical engineers. Others want to study computer science, economics, environmental sciences, nanotechnology and engineering.

Delegates said they plan to go to prestigious colleges, such as Stanford and Georgia Tech, in the fall.

Everyone seemed excited to be in West Virginia.

When Arionna Russell found out she’d been accepted to go to the NYSC, she said she ran around her house screaming.

“I have never been to camp before,” she said. “This was one of my life goals. That, and riding a plane by myself — so, two checks.”

She said she hasn’t settled on a definite career path — nanotechnology and tissue engineering sound interesting — but one of the goals of the camp is for delegates to explore other things, said Desiree Henriksen, the camp director.

Henriksen, who attended the camp 14 years ago, said delegates often come to the camp thinking about pursuing something they know they’re good at but leave with a different perspective.

“It definitely changes the way you think about stuff,” she said. “I chose an education career because I loved seeing how you could enjoy the sciences beyond what you were good at.

“It’s not just, ‘I’ll do what I’m good at,’” Henriksen said. “It’s, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a bigger piece to this puzzle. What role can I fill within that?’”

The goal is for them to learn, network with like-minded students and decompress, away from cellphone reception and the daily rigor of the classroom, Henriksen said.

“We have a philosophy at camp where we make them live in the moment,” she said. “So we do not tell them what the activities are the next day. We do not tell them anything that’s going on the next day; they only know what’s going on in the moment.”

Henriksen said students often are stressed during the school year. To achieve their levels of success, they’d probably have to be, but this camp offers a way to learn without constant tests. Because the students tend to plan ahead in their home life, she said, some face an initial challenge of adjusting to camp life.

“They fight that really hard at the start and, at the end, they take it for what it is,” Henriksen said. “They want to learn. They push themselves to see those new things and enjoy the moment, so we definitely see that transition through camp.”

The camp kicks off in Charleston, with the 5th-annual Martha Wehrle Opening Lecture at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in the University of Charleston Ballroom. Dr. Jay Lockman, principal scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, will be the featured speaker.

Reach Jack Suntrup at jack.suntrup@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.

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