This was written by Joe Severino and photos by Chris Dorst. Read the original article here.

The National Youth Science Foundation has had a presence in the Mountain State for almost 40 years, but Ryan Haupt, one of the nonprofit’s directors, sees that footprint growing significantly in the coming years.

Ten area middle school students have spent the week at the Clay Center, taking part in the foundation’s first microbiology summer camp in Charleston. The program has operated in Huntington successfully for the past few years, Haupt said, but the group has not blossomed into other West Virginia communities until this year.

The foundation is best known for its National Youth Science Camp, hosted at its main campus in Davis. Since 1963, the foundation has selected two recent high school graduates from each state and the District of Columbia — and in partnership with the U.S. State Department, the group has previously invited students from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Germany, Japan, Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago, to attend its summer camp in the Monongahela National Forest, according to its website.

Children are drawn to the camp for many reasons, but the foundation continues to cover costs for campers, making it possible for every child to have a chance to attend, Haupt said. Now the foundation’s longtime success has allowed it to branch out from Tucker County.

“The camp serves the entire nation, has kids from other countries as well come in, but there just wasn’t enough happening here in West Virginia,” Haupt said. “We wanted to offer more throughout the year than just the one big camp.”
Haupt said the nonprofit offered him a job a few years ago to be the driver behind the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics push into other communities. Having been raised in Charleston with the opportunity to attend science camps as a John Adams Middle School student, he said he couldn’t pass up the offer.

Haupt was joined Wednesday by the campers — numbers are limited this year due to COVID-19 — and longtime Marshall University microbiology professor Wendy Trzyna, who is leading the microbiology camp. Trzyna said bringing this complicated subject down to a middle-school level can be challenging, but she said the campers all responded well to the work.

Campers scooped grass, dirt, water, flower petals, bugs and more from outside, created a tiny pond in a plastic container, then watched their ecosystem thrive under a microscope inside the Clay Center. A computer hooked up to the microscope lets them view their samples and capture images.

Watching their microbes grow and interact is just one way to develop students’ interest in science, Trzyna said. Campers will be watching bacteria grow from their handprints, taken earlier in the week. They’ll also be testing and analyzing the effectiveness of hand sanitizer versus hand soap.

Daniel Goodlet, a rising eighth grader at the Lighthouse of Learning private school, said he had never been good at finding living organisms under his microscope at home —until now.

“I didn’t think I would find much [at camp], because with my microscope at home I can never find much with my own samples, but it turns out you just need to find the right sample to actually see something moving,” he said. “I’ve never seen something moving before.”

Precision tweezing of flower petals, cutting of grass and just the right amount of water can make any microbial world thrive under a microscope, Goodlet said he’s learned. Zoomed in on the neck area of an ant he squished Tuesday, Goodlet noticed an immense amount of bacteria floating around.

“That tells me: never let it on food,” Goodlet said.

“Actually,” Trzyna chimed in, “I’ve probably said that five times: ‘You don’t want insects crawling all over your picnic.’ You’ve seen what they really carry now.”

Robert Nassif, a rising seventh grader at South Charleston Middle School, said after the past year-and-a-half, he’s happy to have hands-on learning again. He said he’s long enjoyed getting his hands in the dirt and studying what he brings out.

“I got interested [in science] because it’s cool and fun. It takes away your boring time in the summer,” Nassif said.
Katrine Guirguis, who will be going into eighth grade at Horace Mann Middle School, said she had also never seen anything living under a microscope. She also missed the hands-on learning that COVID-19 prevented.

“Last year we didn’t get to do anything. We were supposed to, but we didn’t get to,” Guirguis said.

hat arena.

“I really like science, but I want to be a lawyer when I grow up,” Guirguis said.

Haupt said regardless of what children want to do when they grow up, he wants them to remember this experience.

“I think even if they don’t go down a science path, I firmly believe that the more science-literate people we have in our society … if you understand science and the scientific method you’re a better-informed citizen in our society,” Haupt said.
The benefit of going into communities is reaching children the foundation could not reach before, he said.

“That’s a really valuable experience, and hopefully — especially for kids who maybe weren’t sure if college is going to be a good fit for them and are intimidated by the idea of going to college if they [would be] a first-generation college student, having had this experience early on maybe prompts them to think a little differently about whether or not that’s a good option for them,” he said. “Because now they have a relationship with a professor, they’ve had material that’s pretty advanced.”

Haupt said he emphasizes to students who are down on themselves early in the week that while this material can be complicated, there’s only one person in the room who knows what they are talking about.

takes time,” Haupt said. “It just takes practice, and that’s true for everyone. No one is magically good at this stuff. I just try to tell them that we’re all in this together. We’re all learning together.”

The end goal will always be to prepare West Virginia’s students for the future, in whatever field that is, Trzyna said.
“We give them some activity that is going to excite them about — we could say science, but I think it’s more about life and the living world and understanding the world around them,” she said.

There are more openings for students at the upcoming camp in Davis, which takes place next week. Interested families should contact Haupt at, or by phone at 304-205-9724, ext. 93.

The foundation also hosted a Lego robotics camp and a Japanese language camp this summer. Haupt said the foundation’s goal is to bring as many programs to as many corners of the state as possible.