SATELLITE Camp: Experimenting with College

Woman in red shirt performing a test tube experiment

NC State students don’t just learn from instructors, some of them become one.  SATELLITE (Science And Technology Enriching Lifelong Leadership In Tomorrow’s Endeavors) Camp is a STEM high school outreach program, led by NC State Caldwell Fellows and other undergraduate students.  

multiple people on group zoom call
Camp counselors and attendees held frequent group calls

The 24-year old camp introduces North Carolina high school sophomores to STEM education and career tracks through a five-day on-campus series of labs, tours, and Instagram-worthy activities. SATELLITE Camp counselors recruit high school participants from rural NC counties and expose them to higher-education opportunities potentially off their radar.

“Our goal is to create an environment where the students can seize hold of their innate curiosity and love for learning and run with that joy with no shame, no fear,” said Elizabeth Byers, SATELLITE Camp Co-Director.  “Our counselors are only 2-7 years older than the students.  This allows campers to feel more comfortable and see themselves pursuing a college education in the future.  This closeness in age is truly one of our strongest aspects.  It allows for connections and mentorship that are key to SATELLITE.” 

A list of personal goals
Counselors and campers shared personal mission statements

Hands-On At Home

Determined, SATELLITE counselors retooled to host the program online in a series of five half-day activities and events.  NC State faculty rallied to support the effort by recording presentations and designing activities on crop science, poultry science, engineering, paper science, and textiles for campers to experiment at home.  

Man holding up book on cover crops
Professor Bob Patterson shared numerous crop science resources

Crop and Soil Sciences Professor Bob Patterson recorded his presentation replete with inspirational quotes and encouraged students to consider the local and global implications of our food systems. “Everything we do in the field of agriculture and life sciences affects the rest of the world,” Patterson told students. “We are so fortunate to have choices about whether we buy one kind of cereal or another.  So many people in the world don’t have the choices we take for granted.”  

Patterson’s 42-minute lecture covered topics from study abroad to cover crops, pollinators, and plant breeding.  He concluded by addressing student-submitted questions about sustainability, nuances of botany, horticulture, and agronomy, and indoor plants.  “Why should we thank a green plant today?” Patterson posed. “Two reasons, they produce sugar through photosynthesis and the precious oxygen we breathe. Yes, thank a green plant!” 

Man holding up a pot of flowers
Professor Bob Patterson encouraged campers to plant for pollinators

Mailbox Gardening

Patterson’s at-home activity focused on backyard gardening. “Dr. Patterson made a nice presentation with important context on why we’re planting things today, especially why we need to include plants that attract pollinators,” Katie said. 

Woman sitting on the floor with soil and seeds
Katie Ryan packs gardening supplies to ship to campers

As Director of Programming, many of the remote logistics fell to Katie.  She carefully packaged Patterson’s copious vegetable and flower seeds along with containers, labels, and potting soil to ship to each camp participant. “We’re trying to give them everything they need so they can be successful with this activity,” Katie said.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences also supported the program through a Poultry Science lecture…

Other camper activities included a trash-to-treasure challenge from NC State Engineering, a reuse activity from Textiles to find new uses for old fabrics, a paper strength test from Paper Science, and a citizen science activity to share wildlife sightings with the Museum of Natural Sciences via the iNaturalist app.

A line of Cups with soil and seeds
Campers await future growth


Man in bicycle helmet demonstrating a lab experiment
Camp counselor Jeremy Lowe keeps his experiment entertaining

By all measures, the online camp worked. “We had 64 students join us from 25 NC counties, from Cherokee to Dare. We had 32 NC State undergraduates helping to facilitate camp and six faculty, including Dr.Patterson, provide presentations to our campers. Besides his lecture video, Dr. Patterson also joined us live on zoom for an hour-long optional session with our students in the evening. One student even brought her mother so they could ask for tips on the garden they had already started at home,” Katie reported.

Campers, pleased the event wasn’t canceled, were impressed by the new format. “Although it has to be tough to host this camp online, you guys have done the most amazing job making it happen!  You guys brought this once-in-a-lifetime experience through, no matter the circumstances,” said one 2020 camper.  

A Growing Reminder

Bob Patterson reflected on the lasting impact of the virtual event. “The [student] Zoom session was wonderful. The high schoolers asked great questions, and they so fully expressed their appreciation for what Katie and her Caldwell classmates had done on their behalf.  It’s a sterling example of how our university can motivate high schoolers to think most seriously about the value of an NC State education. As [campers] walk through their respective gardens this summer, this splendid initiative will continue to be on their mind.”

Future Campus Connections

While SATELLITE is normally just a five-day event, this year’s format keeps the door open.  “We are planning on keeping in touch with the campers and having them collect data on how their plants are growing so they can compare to each other,” Katie said. 

The leadership team is already looking ahead to a milestone next year. “We are excited that next year (2021) will mark the 25th anniversary of SATELLITE at NC State,” Elizabeth said. “No plans have been made yet, but we would love to be able to invite back camp alumni to celebrate 25 years as one big family!“

Campers submitted music, art, and other skills in a talent display

Want Your Own SATELLITE Experience?

If you are a student or educator interested in referring a student, please visit the SATELLITE website for details on next year’s event.  They encourage NC high schoolers to #ThinkBig.

Want More Crop Science Connection?

Crop and Soil Sciences students get out of the classroom and often get their hands dirty. If you are a student interested in one of our degree programs, or know someone who is, join our personal email series to learn how we might be a fit for you.  

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