A One-of-a-Kind Camp for Budding Young Scientists

Two Edison Scholars get a taste of everything from quantum physics to caving at the National Youth Science Camp.

August 19, 2015 | By Mary Ann Milbourn

Hanging by her fingertips from a sheer rock wall deep in a West Virginia forest, Sophia Lee was having second thoughts about coming to the National Youth Science Camp.

“It was the scariest thing I have ever done,” said Sophia, 18, of Riverside, recalling her ultimate triumph scaling the cliff.

Ji Whan “Kevin” Yoon, 18, of Cypress, had a similar reaction conquering the same 50-foot natural rock wall at NROCKS Outdoor Adventures — this wasn’t the science camp he thought he signed up for.

And they were right. The National Youth Science Camp is a special 3 ½-week program in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia for about 100 select high school graduates planning to pursue science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) in college.

Although the camp includes a healthy dose of science lectures and directed studies, the delegates also get exposed to a variety of new experiences ranging from overnight camping to caving and salsa dancing. They also spend four days in Washington, D.C.

Andrew Blackburn, executive director of the National Youth Science Foundation, which sponsors the camp, said the program is designed to not only give the delegates an opportunity to learn from some of the country’s leading scientists, but to introduce them to outdoor adventures that take them outside their usual studies.

“We know the delegates are going to be successful regardless of whether they attend our program or not,” he said, noting Science Camp alumni include Yahoo Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer and Northrop Grumman Corp. CEO Wes Bush. The camp, he said, is all about giving them new experiences.

Sophia and Kevin were the only two delegates from California. They also are two of this year’s Edison Scholars. Edison International, parent of Southern California Edison (SCE), awards $40,000 scholarships every year to each of 30 outstanding high school seniors to help them in their college STEM studies.

Both said their favorite Science Camp lecture was by Allan Daly about a scuba-diving trip to the Solomon Islands with his wife, Suzanne, a gastroenterologist. The trip turned into a lifelong mission to improve the medical conditions in that South Pacific nation. Their work included installation of a solar power system and a state-of-the-art operating room at the Seghe Hospital.

“I learned that even though you can be a prominent scientist and well established in your work, something can happen for you to provide service to society,” said Sophie of Daly’s presentation.

The trip to Washington was one of the highlights for Kevin, who had only been there once before to play clarinet at a recital at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Science Camp visit, which was around the Fourth of July, included a stop at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

“There was lots of patriotism,” he said. “I found it a bit humbling to realize what it means to be Korean-American.”

Tammy Tumbling, SCE director of Community Investment and Philanthropy, said that is one of the aims of the Edison Scholars program.

“Sophie and Kevin’s selection as California’s only two delegates to National Science Camp shows the caliber of our Edison Scholars and the reason we think helping them with their higher education can be a transformative tool in changing lives, communities and the world,” she said.

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