summer camp

In March, when the UNC System announced all 16 college campuses would transition to remote learning, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NC State-affiliated summer camps were forced to make a difficult decision—figure out how to move their summer programs online or cancel the programs outright.

The Science House and Shelton Leadership Center have canceled summer residential programs for pre-college students like the Red Hat Shelton Challenge and Ag-Discovery camp. The cancellations have not only cost programs money, but also cost students what might have been their first experience on a college campus.

Almost 300 high school students usually participate in the Shelton Challenge at NC State and UNC-Charlotte. It is a six-day residential program which occurs three times over the course of the summer. Ashley Turlington, assistant director of pre-college programs at the Shelton Leadership Center, said the camp is designed to push students to work together and challenge themselves and each other to be better leaders. 

According to Turlington, Shelton Leadership Center offered to transfer students’ registration to summer 2021 and around 130 students have accepted the offer. Refunds are being offered for students who do not wish to participate next year. 

Turlington said after the UNC System announced their in-person summer program cancellations, when camp organizers were debating what to do about camp, they ultimately felt the integrity of the program would be lost in a virtual setting. 

“In order to have a productive environment where students are one and willing to challenge themselves, they really need to be in a space where they know they are supported in that regard,” Michael Domeracki, assistant director for outreach programs at Shelton Leadership Center, said. “So doing it online in a limited capacity doesn’t allow us to pick up on nonverbal cues, build that camaraderie with everyone else, and it’s a finite space where students are sitting down; they’re not kinetically going through something very difficult.”

For summer 2020, organizers came up with less intensive, less time-consuming virtual workshops available for free on the Shelton Leadership Center website. The workshops, sponsored by Red Hat and State Farm, include helping students develop healthy mindsets, overcome obstacles and learn about community-building and social responsibility.

Jason Painter, director of The Science House at NC State, said his staff is currently figuring out different ways to move their summer programs for pre-college students online. While programs like Ag-Discovery camp, which require students to work in fields and in labs, are not possible this summer, The Science House has found ways to move some of their programs online. 

Catalyst, a summer program for students with disabilities who are interested in STEM, will move to a virtual platform where students engage in sessions for an hour and a half in the morning and afternoon for two weeks. The program will include virtual field trips; speakers such as professors, graduate students and STEM professionals; and hands-on activities which students receive in a package before the start of camp.

“Like students, we’re trying to be flexible, trying to figure out new ways to do things, but it’s been a very difficult transition because a lot of what we do is hands-on, inquiry-based; it’s social interaction,” Painter said. “Trying to figure out how to make sure we still do those things while in a virtual environment is challenging.”

Painter said the Science Olympiad National Tournament was supposed to take place at NC State in 2020, but due to COVID-19, the event was cancelled.

“As far as cancellations, all of them hurt,” Painter said. “All of them have an opportunity to really make a difference in a child’s life or in a teacher’s life. They’re all important, and we take them all very seriously, but that was one that we had a lot of time invested in and a lot of money invested in that we just had to cancel.”

Summer Textile Exploration Program (STEP) is a one-week residential camp meant to mirror a college experience for high school seniors to get an immersive experience at NC State and Wilson College of Textiles. According to Jaquan Scott, coordinator of recruitment and educational outreach at Wilson, it is the largest recruitment tool for the college.

Scott said in March, the program coordinators started to think strategically about what to do about STEP and decided to transition STEP into an online format this summer. While part of what makes STEP unique is that it is hands-on and collaborative, he said, now, they are working to replicate that in a virtual capacity for the 100 students who will participate in the program. 

STEP has maintained its student counselors, faculty and staff for the summer program, according to Scott. Counselors will facilitate the sessions and create virtual social events for students while faculty will work directly with students for their projects.

STEP staff are working to create packages for students with material they will need for their projects.

“Adversity really brings out the best in us,” Scott said. “We have been able to collaborate in ways we would not have in the past. Certain offices, certain faculty, certain staff are involved more so in the planning than they have been in the past. It’s taken unprecedented communication and collaboration to pull together an effort of transitioning a full summer camp online over the course of a few weeks.”