2013 VBS Summer Camp Recap

During a steamy week in June, 23 high school students made Penn State their home while they learned about veterinary and biomedical sciences careers. Camp coordinator, Dr. Nüket Acar, and her counselors kept the students hopping from labs and lectures to field trips and social events at this year's VBS summer camp.
Campers toured Penn’s Cave wildlife park to observe animals native to Pennsylvania.

Campers toured Penn’s Cave wildlife park to observe animals native to Pennsylvania.

This summer’s Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences (VBS) Summer Camp was a roaring success! The camp was organized by Dr. Nüket Acar, VBS advisor, to provide hands-on student experiences and to explore the types of professions and academic careers that are open to graduates of VBS programs.

From check-in on Sunday, June 23rd to check-out on Friday, June 28th, our 23 high school juniors and seniors were immersed in laboratory experiences and faculty lectures, not to mention various field trips and social activities. By the end of the week, our campers had a solid knowledge of what life at Penn State is like. “I like everything that I learned about vet medicine as a whole,” said one camper. “I also liked how nice everyone was and how close the campers became. I now am sure I want to be a vet!”

The campers came from as far away as Kentucky and as close as Altoona, Pa.; each one with a strong desire to learn more about various veterinary medical fields, public health, and related biomedical research; and willing to get a head start on their college education and future careers.

rexford1These high school juniors and seniors applied to this summer camp knowing their academic and career interests lie in the scientific sector. The labs and lectures are designed to provide a real glimpse into life on Penn State campus in the veterinary and biomedical sciences majors. These, plus the field trips, also are made to introduce various careers open to our graduates.


Basically, a camper will come away knowing if this path is right for them. Do they enjoy dissection, being in the lab, working with animals, being surrounded by science? How do they like Penn State campus: living in the residence halls, eating at the dining commons, having the Penn State amenities at their fingertips? Most students, “loved the hands-on experiences, meeting new friends and getting the college experience. It was really, really cool!”

Daily Schedule Leaves Just Enough Time for Some Fun

The campers and counselors slept in a residence hall and ate their meals at Pollock Commons, just like many typical college students. They rose early, enjoyed a quick breakfast and then rushed off to their first class, which started around 8:30 a.m. They had two labs each morning, lunch back at the Commons, then a field trip and class lecture in the afternoon. After their evening meal, they had free time and various planned social activities, such as a Spike’s baseball game, swimming at the Penn State Natatorium, or movies and games.

The labs were taught by Penn State professors and researchers to give campers a feel for college-level expectations. Topics covered include: extracting DNA (Dr. Andrew Patterson), surgical suturing (Dr. Jeff Dodds), equine medicine care (Dr. Ed Jedrjezewski), avian anatomy (Dr. Nüket Acar), and microbiology (Dr. Subhashinie Kariyawasam).

suturing1Labs on delivering calves (Dr. Earnest Hovingh) and extracting and identifying parasites from animal fecal samples (Dr. David Wolfgang) were also included. One of Penn State’s own alumni, Pittsburgh veterinarian Dr. Kenton Rexford, taught a lab on basic pet care. And, lastly, Dr. Lester Griel, our most senior faculty member at VBS, instructed campers on using radiography and ultrasound methods to diagnose normal and abnormal conditions in animals. One student commented: “The fact that there was so much fascinating, hands-on work for us to do was amazing! I loved it! I didn’t think we could ever do as much as we did.”

Lectures covered topics like contagious diseases (Dr. Eva Wallner-Pendleton), cancer research (Dr. Robert Paulson), animal use in research (Dr. Mary Kennett), and veterinary toxicology and shelter medicine (visiting veterinarian, Dr. Camille DeClementi).

Field trips were arranged for campers to observe real-life examples of careers: the Penn State Deer Research Facility, visits to the Penns Cave wildlife facility and Center Wildlife Care, along with an extensive tour of the local veterinary office of one of our alumni, Dr. Fred Metzger.

In spite of the tight schedules, the campers still were able to make their own fun. One day, they and their counselors were to begin their daily trek back to the residence hall. It was drizzling outside, so they waited a bit before leaving the lecture hall. Unfortunately, the longer they waited, the harder it rained, soon the skies opened up into a downpour. The campers decided to make a run for it, but only the counselors had umbrellas.

The campers, too numerous to huddle under the three available umbrellas, started sprinting to the residence hall, leaving the counselors in their muddy “dust.” Upon catching up to the campers, the counselors found that, instead of going inside to dry off, they had stayed outside to play in the rain and slide on the wet, grassy slopes. It was clear that the campers were thoroughly enjoying themselves and getting along very well. 

What Makes VBS Students Want to Supervise 23 Teenagers for a Week?

During their week’s stay, the students were supervised by three counselors. The head counselor, Christine Crawford, had been a camper herself and now is a VBSC (pre-vet) undergraduate, Schreyer Honors student, president of the Small and Exotic Animal Club (SEAC), and membership chair of the Pre-Vet Club. She wanted to become a veterinarian since 8th grade, when her first pet, a bunny named Cocoa, passed away. She focused on sciences classes in high school and volunteered at her local SPCA.

When it came time to choose a college, Christine picked Penn State because, “Penn State’s program stood out to me as the most well established and competitive program for pre-vet students. I love that I get to work with animals, even in my undergraduate classes, and it is extremely helpful that there are such a large number of staff members who are veterinarians themselves to talk to. I could not have asked for a better program than Penn State’s.”

calving1Christine’s excitement for this program is what led her to become a camp counselor. “I love to talk about Penn State’s veterinary and biomedical sciences programs to other, younger pre-vet students who are looking at what colleges,” she explains. “I loved my experience in the camp so much, and I knew it would be another opportunity to help other students and fuel their interest in veterinary medicine.”

Another counselor, Leah Giralico, also attended the camp when she was in high school and is a VBSC undergraduate now. “I knew I had to take the opportunity to be a counselor, to help high schoolers the same way my counselors helped me!” she says. Max Juriga, another VBSC undergraduate who is as dedicated to his major as Leah and Christine, rounded out the counselors.

Leah found being a Penn State student gave her a unique perspective on the campers this year. She noticed that college students had a greater sense of urgency in getting to their classes as compared to the high school campers, who were unaccustomed to walking at such a fast pace and strolled much more leisurely. At the beginning of the week, the counselors were setting the lead in front, with the campers dragging behind. By the end of the week, the counselors had moved their positions to behind the students, trying to push them along faster.

What Other Activities Are Available for Youth Interested in the VBS Fields?

This outreach activity is one of a few that our VBS department plans for youth interested in associated fields. For students in grades 6th through 9th, we offer a day-long career exploration program where they can try hands-on experiences similar to the week-long campers. And, they attend a short advising session detailing college requirements.

parasite1The Discover Penn State program (a.k.a. Stay Over) is designed for students who have an offer of admission to Penn State’s Animal Science (ANSC), Immunology and Infectious Diseases (IID), Toxicology (TOX) or VBSC majors. It starts on a Thursday, and the prospective students are hosted by current students and taken to classes and social events on Friday. The next day, they have the option to participate in two symposia: one hosted by the Pre-Vet Club and the other hosted by the Biomedical Sciences Club

Any high school juniors and seniors interested in attending the 2014 VBS Summer Camp are welcome to contact the camp director, Dr. Nüket Acar. She also can provide assistance and insight to students who are thinking of applying to Penn State’s VBSC major.