By: Ananya Sen
The Pollen Power camp, which takes place over the summer, targets 6th-8th grade students from underrepresented populations in STEM with the goal of training them to observe their surroundings like scientists. Usually, it takes place in-person at the Carl. R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology where the campers study pollen to see how they germinate, use them as a time capsule to study the climate that existed millions of years ago, and use the facilities to image pollen.
This year, however, the organizers had to conduct the camp virtually from June 7th to July 30th and the campers were offered online adventures with the virtual camper Persephone. “As with everything else this past year, there were hurdles in transitioning Pollen Power to an online format. However, everyone pulled together to contribute, and the end result was well worth it as we were able to effectively provide fun science engagement for an excited and inquisitive group of campers,” said Daniel Urban, a senior outreach activities coordinator at the IGB.
The campers were assigned weekly activities, including dissecting flowers, following the growth of plants, making clay flowers, and identifying insects. They were guided by the camp counselors and the IGB staff through weekly check-ins.
“I learned a lot about the different parts of a flower,” said Allison, one of the campers. “It was interesting to see all the different pieces when I took it apart and the different bugs that were in the flower.” Other campers enjoyed the chlorophyll extraction activity and identifying different fruits in an online game. “I learned about fruits in the guess-the-fruit game. I learned that lychee nuts were real and that they look like walnuts but are tinier,” said Evie, another camper.
“It was definitely interesting moving to a virtual camp,” said Daniel Ryerson, an outreach activities coordinator at the IGB. “It was a challenge to design activities that the campers could do at home, on their own, that were still informative and engaging. Fortunately, it turned out better than I hoped—the campers had a blast sharing what they learned and they taught us counselors some things too.”
Details about the camp can be found at https://pollensummercamp.illinois.edu/.
By: Ananya Sen