Camp STEMtastic moves to online format for 2021 session

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For the first time since its creation in 2014, Thomas University’s Camp STEMtastic moved to an online format due to COVID restrictions that canceled the camp in 2020. From July 26 to 30, campers from Thomas and Grady counties focused on Natural Resource Stewardship as they heard from experts about their local ecosystems each morning and then participated in a related lab each afternoon.

Guiding the campers were counselors Jennifer Hamilton, Elizabeth Harrell and Valerie Yoda. On Friday, July 30, camp participants shared with their parents and invited guests about what they learned through an online Zoom presentation.

During the culminating presentation, camper Griffin Hurst shared that day one included a presentation from Peter Kleinhenz with Tall Timbers discussing the Aucilla River, animals who live in the area, and why pine forests need controlled burns. Camp participants Cody Harrell and Payton Bass talked about how they learned about geographic information systems mapping from Elizabeth Harrell, Assistant Professor of Biology and Director of the GAPP (Geospatial Analysis Planning & Preservation) Center at Thomas University. Cody and Payton explained that these maps could be used to show ecosystems where imperiled species of animals in the Red Hills area live, which helps protect those endangered animals.

Next, camper Julie Robinson discussed how TV meteorologist Kyle Grainger shared with them about weather conditions and climates. Camp participants Isaiah Lewis and David Lewis talked about how Valerie Yoda, a middle school science teacher in Miami and adjunct physical science instructor at Thomas University, led them through a weather lab in which they learned about barometer, rain gauges and wind vanes.

During the end-of-the-camp presentation, camp participants Rowan Garland and Payton Bass shared about how Bailey Crapps with Southern Georgia Regional Commission talked to campers about rivers and streams, including pollution, water quality, and the animals that live there. Then Josiah Princeton discussed the perch dissection in which participants learned the different parts of the fish firsthand.

Camper Lee Halle talked about day four’s guest speakers, who were experts from Saturday by the Sea. They shared with camp participants abut oysters and turtles, and the importance of these animals in their environments. Then Skylar Lewis discussed how camp counselor Valerie Yoda led campers through an experiment to learn about how oil spills are cleaned up.

Camp participant Rowan Garland discussed day five, the final presentation of the camp, which came from Leslie Breland with the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab. Breland shared about the various species of sea turtles, their differences, and how to people can help protect them.

All the campers agreed that they learned a great deal about how to help take care of their environment, and many of them are now interested in science careers.

Camp STEMtastic coordinators hope to return to the in-person format for next summer’s camp.

Camp STEMtastic participants and counselors gather on Zoom for a session during the online camp which focused on Natural Resource Stewardship July 26-30.

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