As temperatures rise and days grow longer, many college students head off to new adventures sending Starkville into a sleepy summertime calm. But the cowbell-loving Mississippi State campus remains lively during the academic off-season as a crew of bright young faces gets its first taste of Bulldog life through a variety of summer camps.

In response to a national push to expose children to additional science, technology, engineering and mathematics education at younger ages, the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering offers more than 10 overnight and day camps each year.

Its Bully Anatomy camp is open to students in kindergarten to fifth grade. This year, attendees worked with focused eyes, busy hands and a little assistance from their counselors, to build hydraulic-powered robotic arms controlled by water-filled syringes. The looks of amazement on the students’ faces as they actually picked up items with their new creations were not easy to ignore.

Bully Anatomy, led by Bagley’s K-12 outreach director Vemitra White, focuses on biomedical engineering and introduces kids to topics like DNA and hydraulics through hands-on projects and puzzles rather than a formal lesson from a textbook.

“We really get to show the kids how fun engineering can be, in hopes that it leads to a greater interest in engineering later in life,” White said.

TOP LEFT and MIDDLE: While attending Bug and Plant Camp, kids get up close and personal with a variety of insects, through the process of collecting and pinning insects and unique demonstrations, including beekeeping tactics and honey tastings. TOP RIGHT: A camper checks out his completed double helix during Bully Anatomy Camp, which introduces elementary-aged kids to the concepts of engineering. BOTTOM LEFT: MSU professor Jeffrey Haupt explains correct technique while drawing a still-life subject during a session of the INVision Summer Art program. BOTTOM RIGHT: Surrounded by a plethora of handmade ceramics, MSU archaeological illustrator Dylan Karges imparts his knowledge of the craft onto high school-aged campers.

With engineering joining topics like sports, theater, insects and art, Mississippi State offers a broad array of camps that provide personal enrichment and educational experiences—and might even uncover hidden talents in students.

During a mid-morning session of the INvision Summer Art program, the chatter of high school students gave way to the steady whirring of a potter’s wheel as the crowd’s eyes were drawn to the repetitive motion demonstrated by Robert Long. Their interest piqued, the students posed question after question to the professor from the College of Architecture, Art and Design as he carefully molded his creation.

This curiosity about artistic expression continued to grow in the campers as they were introduced to various art forms through hands-on lessons in bookbinding, sculpture, photography and ceramics. Associate professor Critz Campbell, who led a workshop on sculpture, said this exposure is essential for a young person’s development.

“It’s a pleasure to introduce students to things that they have not yet seen,” Campbell said. “Not only does this opportunity give them a taste of living and learning as residents of MSU, it also exposes them to the many broad career paths and possibilities that the arts and Mississippi State make available.”

That exposure to new interests is what John Guyton says keeps attracting adventurous kids to his entomology-focused camp.

TOP LEFT and BOTTOM RIGHT: Bully Anatomy campers and staff come face-to-face with the components of DNA, while working through a kit that explores the role played by nucleotides in the human body. TOP MIDDLE: The weeklong INVision Summer Art program includes intensive workshops covering a variety of topics like drawing, book-binding, photography and graphic design. TOP RIGHT: A student from Bug and Plant Camp exhibits careful concentration while extracting honey from its comb, yielding a tasty sample of the sweet treat. BOTTOM LEFT: Each morning session of Bug and Plant Camp includes time to identify and pin a collection of insect treasures gathered during the previous night’s hunt.

“We see new faces every year, and a lot of campers chose to return after their experience here,” explained Guyton, an associate professor with the Extension Service.

During his annual, weeklong Bug and Plant Camp, students spend time both in nature and in the classroom, learning about the creepy crawlies found in their own backyards. Guyton said he enjoys seeing fearlessness and confidence grow in each individual, especially during activities like beekeeping and “driving” a roach with a Wi-Fi-enabled device.

“It really is something to see the demeanor of these kids change when they get the opportunity to share their newfound knowledge of insects with someone else,” Guyton said.

In one of this summer’s early-morning sessions, campers of all ages gathered around pieces of Styrofoam, carefully pinning the treasures found on a bug hunt the previous night. One camper ecstatically announced that she caught 42 horseflies. Guyton said he couldn’t help but chuckle to himself at her resolve.

“Horseflies can be a problem for us,” Guyton said. “During the bug hunt, she picked up on the fact that their movements can repel other insects, so she started trapping them separately.”

While camp offerings are broad and appeal to a variety of interests, one thing holds constant for all attendees regardless of the session: the memories. Mississippi State summer camps leave a unique mark on campers long after the “dawg days” of summer come to a close.

By Amanda Meeler | Photos by Beth Wynn