Discovering New Ways to Pursue Your Passion

Chrystal Zajchowski attended Science Camp in 2014 just before entering her senior year in high school. In 2016, after completing her freshman year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Chrystal returned as Science Camp’s first counselor-in-training. Just before starting her sophomore classes, Chrystal took some time to write to me about her Science Camp experience. With her permission, I am sharing it here. Thanks for sharing, Chrystal!


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Chrystal at South Point beach cleanup in 2014

This summer, I had the opportunity to be Science Camps of America’s first counselor in training. I was a camper two years prior and that experience was like no other, with trips all around Hawaii to the Imiloa Astronomy Center, the Keck Observatory Headquarters, Volcano National Parks, and even to Black Sands Beach. I knew I wanted to come back, I just didn’t know how. I was the oldest camper that session by two years, so it was hard to fit in with the younger campers. Finding myself talking to the counselors and spending most of my time with them throughout the camp, the counselors and I believed a new position should be made.

The next summer, it was made known to me that the position was made. Just my luck, I was too busy getting ready for college and I could not take advantage of the opportunity. My first year of college, I was having some difficulties in my physics class, so I thought that astronomy wasn’t for me. I had carefully thought about what other majors would interest me, or what else I could see myself doing, but nothing prevailed. I researched the astronomy major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I study, and I found out that there are different ways to get your astronomy degree that didn’t have to be a Bachelor of Science degree in Astrophysics. Changing my track to a Bachelor of Arts degree in Astronomy, I found that I can study what I really love and not be as stressed out. I thought that at Science Camps of America, I could talk to scientists and science teachers to make sure that this is what I wanted to do.

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Chrystal (center) with campers and staff hiking to see lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Finally, keeping some time for science after a long first year as an astronomy major at UMass Amherst, I boarded my flight to Hawaii. This summer has been an amazing learning experience for me. I always knew it would be, but it was much more than I expected.

Learning how to deal with teenagers and learning how to work with other adults at the same time was just the start of it. So much science was learned as well from determining the salinity of the Waiopae Tide Pools, to realizing that the constellations are something I need to know to be a better astronomy teacher in the future.

This whole experience has made me come to realize many things. After my difficult first year in college, trying to zero in what I really wanted to be doing, and how I could make that happen; I have come to realize that teaching high school students is what I would really like to be doing in a few years. Though I have never really wanted to teach, ever, I have come to realize that teaching would be something I am good at and something that I would enjoy doing.


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Chrystal working on her s’mores technique.

Science Studies at Science Camps of America

Only the general outlines of the curriculum have been established to date. SCA’s Education Committee will ultimately be responsible for developing the actual curriculum, but I thought it would be helpful to paint the broad brushstrokes.

You have to start with a question: What is it we are trying to achieve? In short, it is to provide young people with an understanding of how our planet works so that they have that solid scientific foundation on which to base their actions and decisions throughout their lives.

So we start with the sciences that describe how our planet works: geology, oceanography, meteorology, ecology and astronomy.  Let’s take a look at what each of these topics might include.

Geology. Starting with geology provides students with the basics of planetary science and includes topics such as planetary formation, plate tectonics, volcanology, and the rock cycle (Wiki link).

Oceanography and Meteorology. I put these two together because they are so intricately linked through the water cycle.  We can study the structure of our planet’s oceans, how the ocean and atmosphere distribute heat and regulate our atmosphere, and the biological interaction of marine species and its importance to our planet’s habitability.  Studies in this area will provide a good basis for the understanding of climate (see ecology).

Astronomy.  The study of astronomy will give the students an understanding of how the universe was started, how galaxies and solar systems, including ours, are created, and what we can learn about Earth by studying other planets.

Ecology. Ecology is the study of the relationships of living creatures to each other and to their environment.  Study topics include biological organization, habitat, biodiversity, and ecosystems.  Finally, students will undertake the study of climate, climate change, the threats to our environment, and possible solutions including alternate energy research.

This is a lot of science! Students will likely need to attend multiple sessions, perhaps over several summers, to complete the study of everything SCA has to offer. Students will not need to attend every session, as each session will be designed to be a complete learning ‘unit’ in itself, as well as fit into the larger picture.  It is a lot to pack into a short period of time, but it can be done, especiallythrough the use of non-traditional approaches that include inter-disciplinary courses, hands-on experiential learning, and Web 2.0 technologies.

Daily Routine. If you know one thing about me, then you know that camp will not be all work and no play!  Generally, the plan is for six hours of educational activity each day, with half of that on a field trip, and the other half for classroom, field, or laboratory work.  Evening programs may be educational or cultural (but light – think lying out watching the stars or learning to play ukulele), or just for fun (movies, games).  Optional activities for other times will include rope courses, arts and crafts, sports, and hiking.

Arts. SCA will encourage campers to use the arts as an expression of their feelings about camp and about what they are learning.  Creative writing, photography, drawing, cooking, and music will all be used to help students express themselves in sharing their experiences with friends and family.