ASHEVILLE, NC – Most middle-schoolers couldn’t tell the difference between a horned passalus and a tobacco hornworm, or identify a club-tailed dragon hunter. But after Bug Camp at UNC Asheville, that’s a piece of cake.
Now in its fifth year, Bug Camp at UNC Asheville draws students from across the state like bees to honey. Thanks to $250,000 in grants from Burroughs Wellcome Fund over the past five years, 40 students each summer explore the world of insects for one week, tuition-free. This summer UNC Asheville hosts two sessions, June 14-19 and June 21-26.
"Many of the students have no idea what Bug Camp is all about," said Biology professor Tim Forrest, camp founder and co-director with Biology lecturer Herb Pomfrey. "They’ve never held an insect."
To acclimate campers when they arrive, Forrest sets up displays of insects, including a hissing cockroach. He finds one or two brave souls to take the plunge and pick up the insect, and usually that’s all it takes to get the rest of the group on board.
"By the end of the week, students are asking to go into the roach cage," Forrest said.
Campers experience science in the lab and out in the field, going on day and night insect-collecting trips to learn to identify, curate and experiment with insects. "By the time they return home, we hope their attitudes about science have changed," Forrest said. "We want these students to get excited about biology, to take science classes in high school, and to consider careers in the sciences."
That excitement about science needs to start early. Girls and minority students are especially encouraged to apply since they are under-represented in the sciences. To recruit students, Forrest e-mails area science teachers. Last year 40 students from 16 schools in seven counties were accepted, and more than half were minorities.
Bug Campers experiment in the lab as well as out in the field.
The grant also has enabled campers to work with the latest equipment, such as a portable data acquisition computer that allows them to gather and analyze data in real time. "That has opened their eyes to a whole different side of science," Pomfrey said.
Bug collecting excursions have uncovered new information, Forrest noted. "Any time you can get out in the field, you never know what you’re going to find," he said. "We’ve found some insects that are very uncommon. These are just special experiences these kids get."
Is the camp achieving its purpose of attracting more young people to careers in science? Last year’s exit surveys—the most recent—show the camp is having an impact: 91 percent of students said they were more interested in science because of Bug Camp.
For more information on Bug Camp, call 828-232-5150 or email Tim Forrest or Herb Pomfrey.