By Lauren Stephens
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Every summer, more than 100 of the top high school seniors from 50 states and nine countries come together in West Virginia for the National Youth Science Camp. Two years ago, I was one of those seniors, and this year my sister will be one as well.
After attending four summer camps and three internships, National Youth Science Camp still stands out as one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. In the middle of West Virginia, we debated the complexity of biological life on hiking trips and discussed the techniques used to determine the composition of planetary atmospheres billions of light-years away while eating a slightly burnt dinner and counting the number of shooting stars.
Yet National Youth Science Camp is not just about academics. We went climbing, mountain biking, swimming and hiking. There were choirs, plays, dances and ultimate Frisbee games. As I began the transition from high school to college, National Youth Science Camp reminded me that science is about exploring new areas, making connections between disciplines and of course, having fun.
From the days of ancient Greeks, the great scientists have also been great philosophers. Aristotle, Pythagoras, Descartes, Newton and many more used their knowledge of science to create and test new philosophies. National Youth Science Camp taught me to follow in this tradition.
As scientists, we get excited because of what we can do and often forget to ask what we should do. At NYSC, we discussed the ethics of genetics and the effect of the Internet on privacy. Our visit to Washington, D.C., reinforced how the knowledge we gain from science helps shape the future of our nation.
National Youth Science Camp taught me that science should be used to make the world better. In fact, a NYSC lecturer who had built a medical clinic overseas inspired me to become an EMT and volunteer for the EMS ambulance at MIT.
The National Youth Science Camp also taught me about the importance of nature. Set in the gorgeous forests of West Virginia, the location itself reminds us nature still has a lot to teach us. Whether it is the complexity of our genetic code or how an albatross can fly across the Atlantic burning no more energy than it does at rest, we still do not fully comprehend the marvels of nature.
The National Youth Science Camp opened my eyes to the idea that science is not just made in industrial laboratories and university labs. National Parks and locations such as the National Radio Quiet Zone in Green Bank are essential to science. There we can point telescopes at the sky to detect radio waves from Jupiter without inference from cellphone signals. From astronomy to solar engines to biological studies, areas such as the one in Green Bank are essential to science.
Finally, National Youth Science Camp offered me the chance to become friends with some of the top students in the nation. These are students I saw during the Presidential Scholars program, at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair, conferences and at MIT. Even my Graduate Resident Tutor at MIT was one of my NYSC Counselors.
In addition, the lecturers impart far more than just knowledge of statistics or ink jet printers or whatever topic they choose. Marissa Mayer, vice president of Location and Local Services at Google, was an alumni of the camp and a speaker in my year who became a role model for me. This summer, I am excited to be working as an intern for Google. The network that NYSC creates fosters collaboration across disciplines and countries.
As another summer begins, my sister and seniors across the nation will start their journey to National Youth Science Camp. They are in for the summer of a lifetime, and I know that a few months from now they too will be missing the woods of West Virginia.
To learn more about the National Youth Science Camp, visit www.nysf.com.