May 15, 2009

New camp focuses on ecology, environment

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Youths from around the region can study ancient fossils, create compost, check out tree cores and participate in all sorts of fun, hands-on activities at a new Southern Illinois University Carbondale summer camp. Open to students entering sixth through eighth grades this fall, “The Nature of Our Planet, Our Collective Home” comes to the University’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center June 22-25.

Each day has its very own theme. The week includes:

• Monday, June 22 -- “How old is your home?” Fossil hunting and reconstructing ancient environments are on tap.

• Tuesday, June 23 -- “How did we get here?” Classifying life forms and fun evolution games are happening.

• Wednesday, June 24 -- “What lives in your home?” Learn about biodiversity and different habitats.

• Thursday, June 25 -- “How clean is your home?” It’s a look at recycling and building compost bins.

Participants will work with SIUC graduate students and local teachers to learn about ecology and their environment by experimenting, playing games, and doing all sorts of interesting activities, camp organizers say.

Registration, which is on a first-come basis with limited space, is due by May 22 or until the camp is full. The cost is $80 for the four-day camp and covers all materials and a snack each morning. The camp runs from 8:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. each day at the Touch of Nature Environmental Center, located about 7.5 miles south of Carbondale on Giant City Road.

As a bonus, there will be free supervised bus transportation to and from the camp each day. Campers will meet at the SIU Arena parking lot promptly at 8 a.m. each day and return at 12:15 p.m. Parents may also transport their children if they prefer.

The National Science Foundation funds the Heartland Ecological/Environmental Academic Research Training (HEART) GK12 fellowship program at SIUC. To learn more about the program, visit

The program supports undergraduate science students at the University as they partner with area high school teachers as resident scientists in the classroom, providing a variety of scientific ecological exploration experiences for students. The program targets underrepresented groups within the field of science and serves as a bridge between SIUC and local schools with the graduate students directly involved in developing ecological and environmental science curriculum and in mentoring high school students.

The program operates during the school year and features a two-week summer institute for participating high school teachers. This summer, “The Nature of the Planet” is an addition for the second week of the institute.

“This program is an exciting opportunity for local kids to explore the natural wonders of their world, especially with teams of young research scientists and local teachers,” said Rene Lopez-Smith, chair of the HEART GK12 summer institute committee.

To sign up for “The Nature of Our Planet”, call 618/453-1121. For more information about the camp, visit, call 618/453-1121 or 618/536-7751 or e-mail