POCAHONTAS COUNTY, W.Va. — Summer camp season is winding down across West Virginia as we near the end of July, but the president of Marshall University is already making plans to be part of Summer 2017’s National Youth Science Camp in Pocahontas County.
Dr. Jerry Gilbert was one of two delegates from Mississippi during the 1973 National Youth Science Camp, put on by the National Youth Science Foundation at Camp Pocahontas near Bartow.
“It was an adventure of a lifetime in a lot of ways,” Gilbert told MetroNews of the experience.
The National Youth Science Camp, created in 1963 during West Virginia’s Centennial Celebration, is a residential science education program for young scientists during the summer after their high school graduations.
Two delegates are selected from each state to attend.
His chemistry teacher at Jackson Preparatory School in Jackson, Miss. suggested it, said Gilbert, so he applied for and was accepted as a delegate during the summer before he began his freshman year at Mississippi State University.
He flew to Charleston, W.Va. before a bus trip to Pocahontas County, he remembered.
“Certainly, the experience and exposure that I saw with the scientists and the professors that came at camp really convinced me that I wanted to be in science and wanted to have a career in science of some sort,” Gilbert said.
“It also gave me a lot of confidence in myself and a lot of affirmation that I could go on and be like those individuals that came and lectured to us.”
During his time at camp, he met both U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and U.S. Senator Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va.).
“They were so both gracious to all of us and just made us feel like they were there looking out for us and that they were wishing us success in our careers. It was quite inspirational,” Gilbert said of one of his camp memories.
In 1977, Gilbert graduated from Mississippi State University with a biological engineering degree and went on to Duke University where he earned a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.
His time in Bartow, Gilbert said, shaped his career path that, at the time, Gilbert had no way of knowing would eventually lead him back to West Virginia.
Gilbert officially took over as Marshall’s president in January following more than five years as provost and executive vice president of Mississippi State University, his Alma Mater.
He returned to the Bartow camp for a visit in June during the 2016 National Youth Science Camp.
“Some things have changed and there are some things that are exactly the same as they were 43 years ago,” he said. “The layout of the camp is almost exactly the same, so I felt like I was actually transplanted back in time when I walked out on this big open space, the green.”
Next year, Gilbert said he’s hoping to be a camp guest lecturer and speak about the ethics of biomedical engineering amid always advancing technological developments.
The 2016 delegates, including several delegates from Central America and South America, left Pocahontas County earlier this month.
Of his fellow delegates in 1973, “Every one of the 100 of us that left Pocahontas County felt like we owed a debt of gratitude to the State of West Virginia and we all wanted to do something to repay that debt someday,” Gilbert said.
“Not all of us, of course, were able to, but we all felt an affection and a loyalty to West Virginia after leaving.”
The application period for the 2017 National Youth Science Camp opens on Nov. 1.