Varns learns about nature at Oak Lake Science Camp

Varns learns about nature at Oak Lake Science Camp Jacenta Varns, a middle school student from Vermillion, got up close and personal with nature at the Oak Lake Science Camp.

The young scientist was among eight students who attended the camp Aug. 5-10 at South Dakota State University's Oak Lake Field Station, 22 miles northeast of Brookings.

During their stay, students were exposed to a number of research opportunities, including plant ecology, insect collecting, frog dissections, water life and trapping of small mammals. A night ecology session had participants shine spotlights to find wildlife and the use of echo locators to attract bats.

"Coming to the camp was a wonderful opportunity for me and I'm glad I came," said Varns, daughter of Harry and Dawn Buckanaga of Vermillion. "I learned so much about insects, frogs and plants. Getting out and studying nature was very educational for me."

Nels Troelstrup, science camp director since 1997, said the week-long session satisfies the needs of many sixth, seventh and eighth grade students.

"There are a lot of church camps and sports camps offered around the state, but not many science camps," noted Troelstrup, who is also the director of Oak Lake Field Station and associate professor of biology and microbiology at SDSU. "There aren't many opportunities for kids who are really interested in academics, science in particular, to get out and do something over the summer to enhance what they have already learned in school.

"We take them out in the field and they have a chance to handle state-of-the-art equipment," Troelstrup added. "We use global position systems, sonar and water quality testing materials. We also use very simple things like traps and nets and show them how to collect samples, how to identify some of the organisms they find and a little bit about the biology of those organisms."

Alethea Caraway, a graduate student pursing a master's degree in biology, helped Troelstrup organize the camp for the second time.

"I think it's great experience for the kids," she said. "They get the necessary hands-on knowledge that they can't get in the classroom."

Before they ended their day, students spent two hours every evening reviewing their respective research projects. The camp also served as a mini-web design class. They were required to create their own web page and update it daily with links explaining their different projects.

"I think the kids have a good time when they are here and all I hear are positive things," related Troelstrup. "We have them going all the time while they are here."

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