Written by Alex Gwizdala, original article can be found here.

If you had asked me last March what I was going to do with my summer after graduation, I probably would have told you that I would try to get an internship at some local lab or just wind up doing nothing. I certainly wouldn’t have said that I would be at some camp I had never heard of in the middle of the woods in West Virginia.

Alex Gwizdala, MD 2019

So, when my high school counselor showed me an email inviting students to the National Youth Science Camp at Camp Pocahontas near Thornwood, I did what any student would do and scoured the internet. When I couldn’t find anything, I was initially skeptical to the point that I wasn’t going to apply, but my parents convinced me to submit my application. A few weeks later, I received my acceptance. So, with no information other than a packing list, I found myself on my way to three-and-a-half weeks with 111 strangers.

I’m not the type of person who would normally step out of my comfort zone. The idea of the camp was about as much as I could handle, and I dreaded losing so much time from my last summer before college. But what a pleasant surprise it was for me to arrive at camp and instantly feel welcome. Even on the bus ride from the airport, I was immediately able to have conversations with peers from around the world. At the camp, this ability to connect with peers extended to meaningful ethical and personal discussions. And thanks to the wide variety of seminars, we had plenty of opportunities to form connections that will last long after the end of camp.

Beyond social connections, the camp proved to be an amazing opportunity to broaden my horizons, exposing me to a variety of new fields. Before the camp, my principal interest was genetics, and I focused on that field in my studies. But I had never taken the time to think about any other fields. Hearing lectures from experts who work on satellites, neuroscience, product design, medical imaging, mathematics and more helped me to think about problems in a new way. An appreciation of the value of multiple perspectives is one of the most important things that I’ve gained from my experience at camp. Outside of the sciences, the amazing overnight experiences I had – exploring caves, hiking through the mountains – helped me broaden my perspective to include a connection to the outdoors that I had lost back at home.

Overall, the camp was amazing. I was able to break out of the shell that I lived in at home and experience new things. I formed bonds that will last a lifetime, and have had my perspective broadened to include things I never would’ve considered. I’m so grateful.

Alex Gwizdala

Williamsport, Md.