By Don Smith
Preparations for the National Youth Science Camp really begin about 10 months before the actual camp. Last winter, while most of the East Coast was snowbound and suffering from bitter temperatures, I sat in my living room, a.k.a. "The Winter Headquarters", and worked on the plans for the 1996 NYSC. (It certainly was better than shoveling snow!)
The structure of the camp began taking shape as the snows melted. Yet, like most directors, I pondered on whether it would meet the needs and expectations of the students. These young adults have exceptionally high standards and expect the best.
Once again, the educational series was exceptional. Lecturers included the creator of "Ocean Planet," Judith Gradwohl, Nobel laureate Dr. John F. Nash, Jr., shuttle astronaut Dr. Fred Leslie, and marine biologist Dr. Tundi Agardy. The Directed Study program was expanded to include timely topics on rural health initiatives, competing in world-wide manufacturing, and an interactive study of man and nature by the Jane Goodall Institute. The students provided the highlight of a delegate lecture series because they were able to give lectures on their research. Over 80% of them took advantage of this opportunity. They were also able to present seminars, and about 50% of them did.
Not only were the students able to work with different scientific experts, they were able to participate in an exceptional outdoor program. The choices among the activities were diverse. This year nearly 70% of the students were able to kayak the New River. Mountain biking opportunities were expanded to include day trips as well as overnighters, and our outdoor staph explored new trails to add to the hiking overnighters.
In addition, we included activities that are always a part of the NYSC. We went to the Sinks of Gandy, spent Independence Day at Camp Allegheny, and toured the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) at Green Bank. This summer the "Father of Radio Astronomy", Dr. Grote Reber, was working at NRAO. He spent an afternoon in camp talking to the students about his early work and the research he is now conducting.
The trip to Washington, DC, proved to be as exciting as ever! Part of delegates toured US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) and listened to Drs. Gerald and Nancy Jaxx discuss the investigation into the Ebola outbreak at Reston, VA, in 1989. Other students visited NIH and met Dr. Francis Collins, one of the nation's leaders in human genome research. A third group toured Goddard and met astronaut Dr. Robert Parker. Once again, we toured the monuments, visited various Smithsonian museums, spent a morning at the National Zoo, and had lunch with the U.S. Senate. Bruce Babbit, Secretary of the Interior, was the keynote speaker. Our evening in Washington, DC, was sponsored by Discovery Communications. We saw the premiere of "The Leopard Son" and listened to remarks by Dr. John Cavallo.
This year, 1996, is my final year as the director of the National Youth Science Camp. After 12 years of working in some sort of capacity with the camp, I can barely imagine a summer of not being in Pocahontas County. Although I am not there in person, my spirit and best wishes will be there for those who do return. I know that the preparations for the 1997 camp have begun; I feel nostalgic as I hear about those plans. My successor and friend, Paul Miller, will provide good, strong leadership for both the students and the staph.
Over the years, I have closed many letters with "More later." Now, as I write my final letter for the NYSC, that simple phrase takes on a new meaning. I will always be a strong friend and supporter of one of the best educational programs in existence.