Home Alumni Summer camp sparks love for nature, science in high schoolers

Summer camp sparks love for nature, science in high schoolers

News PhotoA summer camp for central Iowa high schoolers interested in the environment is doing more than providing an opportunity to learn about prairie wildlife and plants.

The students are building confidence and developing their own vision for a career in science through the Drake and Metro Waste Authority Field Ecology Science and Stewardship Camp.

“The camp was designed to bring high school sophomores and juniors into the field to inspire and nurture a love for the environment,” said Keith Summerville, associate professor of environmental science.

“The students have a morning session that exposes them to ecological techniques to understand plants and animals. The afternoon is devoted to stewardship activity.”

Summerville and two Drake seniors — Jamie Lane of Hastings, Minn., and Bret Lang from Kanawha, Iowa — are leading the week-long camp at Metro Waste Authority’s 73-acre environmental protection area near Runnels, Iowa. The site offers an outdoor classroom where participants have hands-on experiences.

Students from Southeast Polk, Newton, Prairie City/Monroe and Roosevelt high schools learned about and documented wildlife, including plants, butterflies, dragonflies, small mammals, birds and aquatic life. They also identified trees, mapped streams and planted native oaks.

Among the plant species students collected during the camp were butterfly milkweed, Compass plant and Culver’s root. In addition, students documented butterflies and dragonflies.

A majority of the species found during the camp were identified last summer when Lane and Lang — who were instrumental in creating the camp’s lesson plans — conducted research on the Metro Waste property.

“When you know the land and area, it is easier to think of projects and tasks that you can do out here,” said Lane, who is the teaching assistant for the camp and plans to graduate in December.

“I learned a lot going through the lesson plans. This is definitely what I’d want to do if I was in high school.”

“This is quite a project,” Lane said. “Our work last summer has helped to set this camp up nicely. We have a good idea of where different species are located.”

When asked about the experience, many of the high school students gave the camp a positive review.

“This camp is very interesting,” said Southeast Polk sophomore Davis Horton. “I’m into hunting and fishing and am getting more interested in biology.”

For many of the students, the camp intrigued them because of their love of being outdoors.

Newton junior Kole Wilson, who is particularly interested in small mammals and game birds, said his biology teacher told him about the camp.

“I love to hunt and fish and am interested in going into the Iowa Department of Natural Resources one day,” Wilson said.  

“Six out of the seven students have asked if we are going to have this camp again,” Summerville said. “They said they want to do the camp again and that they will tell their friends.

“The fact that these students are choosing to spend their summer vacations learning instead of vacationing shows their willingness to make some sacrifices for science and stewardship.”