Camp fosters young people’s interest in science, technology and more

Updated: Jul. 11, 2019 at 3:04 PM EDT
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LAKE WACCAMAW STATE PARK, N.C. (WECT) - Kids at this week’s Young Scientist Academy have learned about the weather and climate change.

They also got a lesson in perseverance.

The executive director of the Wilmington-based academy, Rob Condon, Ph.D, led a dozen science campers on a weather balloon launch expedition Thursday at Lake Waccamaw State Park.

Despite hours of preparation involving items as crude as duct tape and as high tech as GoPro cameras, the first two attempts to send the balloon skyward failed.

Instead of hanging their heads and admitting failure, Condon and company regrouped, made the necessary changes and the third try was a success.

"Good lesson the process of science today," Condon said. "They were troopers."

The weather balloon — equipped with GoPros, satellite monitoring devices and yes, duct tape — was expected to go as high as 150,000 feet where it will gather data about the clouds, gases in the stratosphere and more.

When the balloon returned to Earth three hours after launch, the campers used GPS tracking to find and retrieve it, then entered the information into a computer program.

This isn't a typical summer camp scenario but certain aspects of traditional camps do carry over.

"I think the most fun is just hanging out with other people while doing some cool stuff that most people don't get to do," said Haley Sing, who is attending her second Young Scientist Academy.

Condon opens the academy experience to young people of all backgrounds and relishes the opportunity to teach kids from underserved communities in Wilmington.

"It's really important to nurture their interest in the natural world and get them involved in what it's really like," Condon said. "In the future, they're going to have to deal with problems like climate change and other issues in Wilmington as well, like water quality and things like that.

"It's really important that we drive youth to be problem solvers using the scientific method and that way they can be ambassadors and provide a service for future generations to come."

YSA is funded through local donations and focuses on five major themes: climate change, environmental science, urban ecology and agriculture, computer engineering and programming and science communication.

This week’s camp ends on Friday, but Condon said there are three other camps scheduled this summer serving a dozen or so kids at a time.

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