Ketchikan High School 2019 graduate Acacia Sexton prepared for her first year at college by attending the four-week National Youth Science Camp in the mountains of West Virginia in late June to mid-July.
The camp is a program established by the National Youth Science Foundation, established in in 1983 to offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs for students from the United States and around the world, according to information at nysf.com.
Sexton said, via a phone interview Saturday, that the adventure held many surprises, learning opportunities and adventures for her.
“I didn’t exactly know where I was going,” she said. “Lots of us didn’t. We kind of just applied and we got on the plane and we showed up at the airport and we got onto these buses and we drove for a couple of hours into the middle of nowhere.”
The camp is located deep in the forest, where students are housed in cabins stacked with bunk beds. There is hot, running water in nearby bath houses, Sexton said, which eased the rustic life a bit.
There is no cell service, however, and only limited internet use on provided computers.
“They definitely have a focus on being in the moment and being present and participating, so I think that’s one of the reasons why they like not being able to have your phone on all the time,” she said. “You’re more involved.”
Sexton said she relied on sending postcards to share news with friends and family while at the camp.
It turned out to be fine, however, because “they have a lot of fun stuff to keep you occupied, so you’re never going to be bored,” she said.
Sexton said that one of the aims of the camp creators is to give attendees exposure to new experiences.
“They want you to try new things that you’re not probably going to ever do again,” she said.
Sexton said she took an outdoor research class in hydrogeology, in which they tested a nearby spring’s water, “which was exciting,” she said. She also took a class in which she studied and searched for fossils.
There also were classes offered in varied STEM areas, such as solar panel building and anatomy, Sexton said.
Other camp experiences offered are outdoor adventuring. Sexton chose mountain biking and mountain climbing, and she said she wondered what she’d gotten into with the latter choice, as she’s afraid of heights.
“I really thought it might have been a bad choice when I was starting to get afraid of the hike to go up to the climbing place,” she said.
Then, when she got to the climbing wall, it was dauntingly vertical.
“Well, I have to go up,” she said she told herself, adding that she was shaking the entire time.
After the climb — which the group had to leave early due to bad weather — she concluded that “it was a very good learning experience. I didn’t faint, I’m obviously still alive,” she said, laughing.
She added, “It was the type of fun where you have fun after.”
The mountain biking was more in her comfort zone, she said.
“I had a great time, and we got to go swimming at the end,” which she said was extra nice because they’d gotten covered with mud during the trek.
The element of surprise is integral to the camp, Sexton said.
“You get little Easter eggs all throughout the camp,” she added. “They tended to be all good surprises.”
She said, “if we were going somewhere, they would just say ‘You need to be on the buses at this time, wearing this type of clothing’ and you wouldn’t know where you were going until you got there, or what you were doing.”
Sexton said “trying new things overall was one of the best parts, and seeing new places” was the best aspect of attending the camp. “At the end you do go to Washington, D.C., for a couple of days and you get time to tour around a little.”
She added, “I like the food a lot in D.C. I got to try a bunch of different restaurants.”
She also mentioned that she enjoyed the many museums they toured while in that city.
According to program information, two students per state and one from Washington, D.C. are admitted each year, in addition to students selected from several South American countries, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago.
Students considered for admission must have excelled in several areas, including academic studies, especially math and science; demonstrated leadership abilites and community participation; and have stated an intent to purse STEM-related college studies.
The NYSC is completely free for attendees, including the cost of transportation to the program.
Sexton now is attending Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She is planning to major in environmental studies and sociology, with the idea of possibly making a career as an environmental sustainability consultant.
She said the NYSC helped prepare her not only for the rigors of academia, but also for the social aspect of living in the college’s residence halls with a broad diversity of students. In addition to her studies, Sexton also is working at a campus daycare facility caring for young children.
As to what she’d tell prospective camp attendees, she said “you shouldn’t worry about classes,” and instead, should focus on the many fascinating choices available for classes, adventures and experiences.