A summer camp survey

A vibrant campus culture during the summer months

- August 23, 2011

SuperNOVA counsellor Ben Parker prepares a rocket for launch (Bruce Bottomley photo)
SuperNOVA counsellor Ben Parker prepares a rocket for launch (Bruce Bottomley photo)

When a rogue basketball arced over the partition in Dalplex's fieldhouse and bounced through my Yogaflex class, I knew the summer camps had arrived.

Those lucky folks who spend their summers in beautiful vacation locales (or, alternately, sweating away at summer jobs) may not realize that Dalhousie’s cohort of students doesn't necessarily shrink as much as you’d think when the last spring exam is written and the undergrads fly home.

It just gets a lot younger – sometimes as young as five to 10 years old, in the case of the Active Kids Summer Camps run through Dalhousie’s Athletics and Recreation department. There, campers get to take part in activities such as soccer, lacrosse, basketball, water polo, field hockey, soccer-baseball, track and field, and swimming.

A wide variety of summer camps

Less overtly sporty (and slightly older) kids sometimes find their niche in the ‘Big Bang' Percussion Camp (offered by Dal’s music department, and culminating in a bangin' final concert for friends and family in the Arts Center), Mini University (a pedigreed program approaching its 30th anniversary – among this year's topics are kinesiology and journalism) or "Shakespeare by the Sea Camp" (taught to aspirant thespians in Point Pleasant Park).

Since it would be a shame not to make use of Dalplex's extensive facilities (summer yoga classes can only go so far), Superskills Summer Camps are also offered: these skill-development oriented camps have an excellent instructor-to-student ratio (and, in common with many Dalhousie summer camps, include a season pass to home Tigers games). Rather than encompassing a wide range of sports like the Active Kids camps, the Superskills camps implicitly encourage campers to specialize by focusing on one game or sport – for instance, hockey, swimming or volleyball.

A 'super' experience

Dalhousie's SuperNOVA science and engineering camps have already garnered plenty of attention, but they deserve another mention here – in no small part, because the counselors are having as good a time as their campers.

Andrea Gauthier, a Biology/English major at Dalhousie, waxes enthusiastic about the perks of her job. "It's a great feeling to be up in front of a room," she says of her classroom visits (SuperNOVA goes into local schools as well as hosting summer camps). "We were only there for an hour and a half, and for that hour and a half, we were the coolest people in the world."

Her job as an instructor at SuperNOVA was a natural fit, since she both loves working with kids and considers herself “a huge science nerd." When asked if kids really want to spend their summer vacations studying, Ms. Gauthier is quick to assure me that "it's science from a different angle. It's the fun side of it."

And when she fills me in on a few of SuperNOVA’s camper projects—for instance, making bouncy balls and building a mini roller coaster—I'm not surprised that the camps are booked solid by May.

Ms. Gauthier's fellow instructor Brennan Musgrave, a chemical engineering student in his third year, echoes her sentiments. "I love it. It's the best job I ever had, actually… I get to say, 'I was making catapults with the kids today.'" (Important detail: the caltapults fire ju-jubes).

Like Ms. Gauthier, he's sure the word ‘science’ won’t permanently turn campers off. "We had lots of comments saying 'this wasn't like school at all, this is so much fun.’"

A summer job this good entails stiff competition, and not just anyone can be a SuperNOVA instructor – applicants to the coveted post are required to be students with a background in science, computer science, or engineering (and no other summer job). For those lucky few who snag the post, it can be a transformative experience; Mr. Musgrave tells me that "all of this camp work has actually made me think of going into teaching."

Future potential

Some campers even experience a change in anticipated career trajectory.

Joshua Bray, who has worked with the Physics Department's 'Holotent' (a 'portable darkroom' organized by professor Kevin Hewitt which lets visitors make their own holograms), tells me that a recent participant approached him – "almost shaking, she was so excited" – to declare she wanted to work as a physicist and ask for some career planning advice.

"A lot of these kids, they’re already interested in this type of subject matter… they’ve got all these questions."

Sounds like some campers are already looking ahead to the days when they’re part of Dal’s normal student contingent, returning to campus in September with all sorts of questions to pose in the classroom.

More summer camp stories:


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