National Youth Science Camp in closing days in virtual format

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — This year’s National Youth Science Camp is now in its final days in a virtual format with hopes among organizers that delegates will be able to return to Pocahontas County for the annual event on-site next summer.

Camp events began online on June 1, a necessary shift, said Dr. Brian Kinghorn, director of the National Youth Science Camp, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Brian Kinghorn

Since 1963, delegates from all 50 states and multiple countries have spent part of their summers learning in Pocahontas County.

This year was different.

“In Pocahontas County, there were very little options for medical care, if needed. We didn’t want to overwhelm their small hospital,” Dr. Kinghorn said of factors considered before going to the virtual camp.

“Bringing delegates from all 50 states, D.C. and eight different countries plus 30 staff to Camp Pocahontas would have been a tinderbox and we just couldn’t, being socially conscious, do that.”

Instead, delegates have been participating virtually in lectures, directed studies and breakout seminars.

Kinghorn said logistics were a challenge for the online National Youth Science Camp along with, in some cases, scheduling.

“At camp, you can say, ‘Hey, we’re going to lecture,’ and everyone goes to lecture. With our virtual camp, people still have jobs. They still have family responsibilities. They might still be in school,” he said.

“We have to kind of work around their schedules and recognize that not everybody’s going to get as much out of it as they may have liked to or would have gotten if they had come to West Virginia.”

A total of 108 delegates from the United States, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago were signed on for this year’s NYS Camp.

Kinghorn said 90 were part of the first session and between 60 and 70 had been participating in nightly sessions which were recorded and available for viewing later.

He still reported seeing some signs of the regular camp “magic” even virtually.

“These delegates have gotten into reflective cabin meetings with one another, had wonderful discussions and conversations. They’re talking with people from across the country who are kind of part of their tribe,” Kinghorn said.

“They’re meeting people that are just like them and yet so different from them and they are building lifelong friendships and having amazing experiences and it’s just so cool to kind of be there as a fly on the wall and watch that happen.”

Presenters this week have included Dr. Emily Huang, an assistant professor of surgery at The Ohio State University, on colorectal surgery; Dr. Rick Walker on electric vehicles and Dr. Jessica Frey, chief neurology resident at West Virginia University, on neuromodulation.

On Thursday, Dr. Josh Shiode was scheduled to moderate a STEM policy panel discussion with Liz Neeley, Ana Ferreras, Richard-Duane Chambers and Meredith Drosback before a farewell ceremony on Friday.

In all, online activities have spanned three weeks.

“As the National Youth Science Camp, there’s no way we could have said, ‘Well, sorry, you’re not coming this year.’ We needed to pivot,” Kinghorn said.

“We needed to show that we, No. 1, value these delegates and the contributions they’re going to make to making the world a better place and to show that the National Youth Science Camp can roll with the punches and that we are the premier national science camp.”

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