Over the course of two weeks, students participating in NOAA Science Camp are gaining access to some of the latest information from leading experts in marine biology, oceanography and climatology. More than 130 middle and high school students will come through NOAA’s Western Regional Center in Seattle during this time. Some kids are local; others have made long trips to be here.
Seattle’s mild start to summer feels hot if you’re from St. Paul Island, Alaska. The remote island is in the middle of the Bering Sea about 300 miles from mainland Alaska and it’s the place Brittney Lestenkof calls home.
Lestenkof is in Seattle for the first time to attend camp. The weather and atmosphere were fresh on her mind after attending sessions from NOAA and University of Washington scientists. So far, learning about the atmosphere is the 11-year-old’s “favorite thing.” She also liked marine mammal activities led by NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center, where she learned about tracking animals and how scientists use sound to study marine mammals underwater.
Lestenkof didn’t make the trip alone. Her cousin Diamond Lestenkof was accepted into the Junior Leadership Program. The program is an off-shoot of NOAA Science Camp and is designed to help high school students develop their skills as leaders, teachers and marine scientists. Unlike Science Camp, the Junior Leadership Program requires potential participants to fill out an application.
The cousins were able to attend camp through a partnership between NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government, Thalassa Education and Outreach, and NOAA Science Camp.
Diamond Lestenkof previously took part in Science Camp and the unique experience drew her to the Junior Leadership Program. Asked about her favorite activity so far, the 16-year-old said, “The PMEL (Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory) tour – we designed an instrument to collect underwater plankton and biology samples. It was really fun.” She also found the career information session interesting, Junior Leaders interviewed marine scientists in a “speed networking” format. “A lot of the scientists said not to be afraid to try new things,” she said.
“It’s a good experience, learning new things and seeing things you’ve never seen before,” said Dade Boze of Mukilteo, WA. The 12-year-old is especially interested in water and diving. He was impressed to see NOAA’s dive center. “The suits were cool,” he said. “The chambers were nice.”
Exposing children to cutting-edge research and technology is the goal of the camp which has run for the past 14 years. Parents routinely tell camp leaders their children get “more science during a week at camp than a year of school,” said camp coordinator Maile Sullivan.
Through the years, this collaborative camp from NOAA, Washington Sea Grant, and the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) has made it possible for more than a thousand children to get one-on-one insights from world-renowned scientists. The collaboration also means students learn about multiple scientific disciplines and all areas of marine, ocean and atmospheric research.
“NOAA Science Camp uniquely captures what is available. It’s not just one thing.” Sullivan said. “With few exceptions, every kid who leaves here is jazzed about science.”
Camp organizers are constantly integrating new areas of study. This year that means a special session on remotely operated vehicles or ROVs. The camp has teamed with Atlantis STEAM to allow kids to build mini-ROVs. The robots are increasingly used to supplement researchers work by surveying dangerous locations and cutting costs of long-term studies.
Camp registration usually opens up in mid-March. There are fees but scholarships, funded by JISAO and Washington Sea Grant, are available for families with financial need. “We’ve never turned anyone away from a scholarship application,” Sullivan said.