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Education Math Science

Fond Memories of Nerd Camp 116

Slate's "Summer Camp" issue has revived a piece from a few years back recounting author Meghan O'Rourke's experience as a student at "nerd camp." O'Rourke was a student at Johns Hopkin's CTY program (bias alert: so was I, and remain a fan), but I suspect there's a lot in common with the various Governor's Schools and programs like Duke's TIP. What's been your experience with such programs? Are you going to one now? Are your kids?
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Fond Memories of Nerd Camp

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I did this camp the summer before senior year, and it was the best six weeks of my life so far. We were walked through the process of doing observations and writing a script to calculate the orbit of a near-earth asteroid. (The name is generic because the camp dates to the 50s.) Not anymore, obviously, but I understand that way back when Richard Feynman and some other folks at Caltech would guest-lecture from time to time.

  • Changed my Life (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Governor's School was the first place I discovered where asking questions, thinking carefully and communicating clearly were valued rather than suppressed. It gave me hope that there were communities that valued wrestling with questions and solving problems and encouraged me to seek them out.

    • Governor's School was the first place I discovered where asking questions, thinking carefully and communicating clearly were valued rather than suppressed. It gave me hope that there were communities that valued wrestling with questions and solving problems and encouraged me to seek them out.

      Ah. So why do you come to the Slashdot comments section, then?

    • Governor's School (ND GS '93) was one of the defining experiences of my life as well, not only did I learn a lot about critical thinking and get my earliest tastes of real computer programming, I also gained many great life experiences. We went on many excellent field trips including a Canoe trip that I will never forget (I did fine because I was also a Boy Scout, but it taught some of the other "Nerds" there some really valuable life lessons). I learned how to survive on 4 hours of sleep a night with not

  • Camp Atari (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @07:07PM (#36840494) Journal

    I went to Camp Atari []. I didn't learn anything, but the Warez were awesome! Getting disks was much better than downloading things at 300bps...

    I also did Camp Watonka [] in the Poconos, where I got early exposure to amateur radio, model rockets, rifles, and extra-circular Dungeons & Dragons!

    • So I'm not the only one who saw this and thought of Camp Watonka, I was a counsellor there in 2004 and loved the experience.
      • by ajlitt ( 19055 )

        Great camp! I have to credit the electronics lab there for cementing my career path. Though the dirt bikes and tour of a nuke plant were a good time too.

    • Camp Watonka rates seem to start at $1200 a week for a 2 week camp. Damn! I can't imagine being able to save $4800 just to send my 2 kids off for 2 weeks, going up to $13800 for 8 weeks. I make a decent living but I'm not rich and that's extravagant by my standards. For $13800 I could take 2 months off and teach them heaps of cool stuff myself....or take my family on Safari!

  • Anything is less fun if other nerds have used up all the good imagination space.

  • (circa 1985?)I went to some summer day camp related to National Merit achievements, or PSAT scores. Something like that.
    It involved encouraging high school(?) kids to self-pace their way through a calculus workbook. It was taught at Mills College.

    It sucked.
    The "instructor" was some 18 year old idiot, I got way too frustrated, and it was too far for me anyways: 2 hours by bus or something each way. Horrific. And there was no social element to it.
    Put me off calculus in a major way, even though I had previous

    • Dude, that wasn't summer day camp... that was SUMMER SCHOOL.

    • by dargaud ( 518470 )
      Experiences differ. In 1980 I went to a nerd camp: launched rockets, did program a PET Comodore (launching a career in the process), amateur radio, explosives and a whole lot of other stuff. The programming teacher was an ex paratrooper from WWII (I could never figure that one out) with plenty of stories to tell. And all the other teachers were fun.
  • Computer camp was good, TIP better, and the Governor's Scholars Program was the high point of my life. Ordinary camp was bad.
    • by afidel ( 530433 )
      Ordinary camp was bad.

      Really? While I loved my two trips to the Governors Summer Institute I wouldn't trade my time in regular summer camp for anything. 250 acres of wilderness and a 35 acre lake were incredible fun to explore. We got to play with bb guns, bow and arrows, rifles, and all sorts of watercraft. Oh, and my first time making out was at summer camp.
  • I go to college and I don't have kids...I think...But it sounds like I could've made some friends there.

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @07:57PM (#36841018) Homepage
    I went to CTY for two summers. Some of the best experiences I had as a young kid were there. I also later went to PROMYS, which is Boston Univesity's program which teaches number theory to highschool students which I then ended up working for as a counselor when I became an undergrad. These programs are very good for kids.
  • Great camp []. Such a horrible t-shirts.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I took 3 course at CTY in Lancaster, PA. Marine Ecology and two CS classes.

    The great thing for me was the social environment. It was the first place that I met kids "like me" and I "fit in". From neglect (or parental blindspots), I had no social skills, but people accepted me anyway - and for that I will love CTY forever. Just seeing that other smart kids were social (unlike what I was shown on TV) was a huge change in my mindset. Now, I'm probably shier than the average person, but I'm a huge extrover

    • by Andy Dodd ( 701 )

      I went to Lancaster for four summers (six sessions total) as a student. The program changed my life. Like you, it was my first opportunity meeting kids "like me". I'm not sure if I would have made it through high school without keeping in touch with the friends that I met during those four summers. Geology '93, Digital Logic '94, Genetics and Fast-Paced Math '95, Astronomy and Physics '96.

      During my last summer of graduate school (2005), I had the opportunity to return to Lancaster as a TA. It was both

      • by timothy ( 36799 ) * Works for Slashdot

        Who was your Geology instructor? I had Bob Zei, in 1991. Great class, well taught -- south-central PA has a lot of offer for Geology.


        • by Andy Dodd ( 701 )

          I don't remember for sure, but Bob Zei sounds somewhat familiar...

          I had Haz for Astronomy and Mike Brandstein for DIGI. DIGI went WAY downhill after Brandstein left. As I understand it, Haz left the program a few years after I had him, he was one of those "If you are having trouble deciding on a course, take that one!" instructors, so it's unfortunate that he's gone.

          • by timothy ( 36799 ) * Works for Slashdot

            Yes; not taking Haz's Astro is one of my course-selection regrets (which are all of omission, rather than commission); everyone liked him. I think Jamie (former Slashcoder) had him there as well, and my friend Dug among hundreds of others did, too. One day, as in "when I have kids, at least," I will get a telescope and do some desert camping to use it ;)

            Bob Zei was dark-haired, probably mid or late '30s, if that helps at all. One day I will find / scan / post a few photos from that class.


  • I was one of those lucky high school tech nerds that attended Teen Tech Fest 2000 [] sponsored by AcePlanet and Microsoft. It was its first and last year, since AcePlanet went belly up like many other startups of the time. AcePlanet was going to do annual computer-themed summer camps for kids, but I guess there wasn't enough money in it.

    Already being already an F/OSS person, it was a very fun camp. Despite being Microsoft sponsored (and getting a free copy of VS6 and tour of the MS campus), many of the kid
    • I was there too. Now a PhD student at a top school. I don't think I would have learned C++ until many years later without the free copy of VS6. (Though to remind you, the reason we got the free copy was because we were not allowed to see something that was promised in the contest description and I think someone's lawyer parents threatened MS)
  • I went to CY-TAG at Iowa State [] (a spin off of CTY). Greatest experience of my life, I don't know if I would have made through junior high / high school without the friends I met there. It motivated me to become more intelligent that I was not getting from similar peers at home. I highly recommend sending you kids to nerd camp.

  • by Elbows ( 208758 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @08:48PM (#36841428)

    I was like 10 or 11, IIRC. The older kids picked on me, and on the first day, one of the counselors yelled at me, made me cry, and called me a sissy. That's right, I was bullied at nerd camp. ;-)

    But otherwise it was pretty cool. I think I did programming for the whole week. When they figured out that I had a handle on BASIC, they taught me Apple II assembler, which was pretty exciting at the time.

  • by Orinthe ( 680210 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @08:55PM (#36841460) Homepage
    My brother and I both went (different years) to the Ohio Supercomputer Summer Institute []. While I can't say it was a life-altering experience (we both were already interested in computers and programming; you needed to be to get into the program since applicants have to solve a simple programming problem), it was a great experience both socially and practically—we got to make friends with other geeky kids and do work (and play) on "real" computers (everything at the time was done on SGI workstations running IRIX and we even got accounts on Cray and SGI supercomputers) and do generally cool stuff. I think that in terms of actual usefulness to the local/regional/educational/technical community though, a longer and perhaps more introductory program would have been better. 2 weeks isn't long enough to accomplish a lot when you're trying to get things done with excited teenagers (it would be hard for anyone), and the fact that the program is limited to somewhat-experienced kids means that while you can accomplish more in that short time you also are not really doing a lot to get new people interested and engaged with technology.
  • Clemson University. One room, sixteen ASR-33 110-baud TTYs attached to a PDP-8, thirty-two high-schoolers. After a few days in that room, your ears would interpret any low-frequency thumping as TTY noise - half the campers were convinced they were piping printer sounds into our dorm rooms at night (it was just the air conditioner).

    Ended up writing a Spacewar game as my senior science project.

    • Several of my friends went there and they still have fond memories of it to this day. I won't lie, I always envied them.

  • I did three years of Duke TIP; The first year was really useful for getting me to open up socially. The second year I took a political philosophy class, and it lead me to really re-evaluate my beliefs and values. The third year, though, was the one that affected me most. I had a very exciting class on Nanotechnology (first term 2008) that really sparked an ambition in me. Now I'm about to publish my first math paper and attend Caltech. I wouldn't be where I am without having gone to TIP.
    • by ph0rk ( 118461 )
      Wow, when I did it all that happened were drugs, booze, and sex. I was just there for the math.

      I'd expect most of the people capable of gaining admission to such programs will do quite well with or without them.
    • I did three years of TIP as well, and loved each year. I got to do computer modeling, take psychology, learn several programming languages and more, years before I was to go to college. The best part though was the people. I have never been so comfortable around people I just met. It was like everyone was cool (I'm sure "lame" by someone else's definition though).

    • by EMeta ( 860558 )
      TIP was really important for me opening up socially too. I still get chills thinking about it. I was there a bit before you (east, term 2, 95-96), but those 6 weeks were easily the most important of my life up to that, and in some ways even since because of the amazing people i met. I shudder to think how disaffected I might have become without it and those connections.

      I'll stop the gushing now. But if anyone has the chance to send their kids, do it! It was easily the best investment made in my pre-co
  • Many here will be interested in Camp Quest. They offer a secular experience for kids of ages 8-17. The curriculum includes freethought, Humanism, scientific method and peer review, skeptism, etc... plus all the traditional camp stuff like archery, swimming, hiking, arts and crafts, and songs.

    There are 10 locations in the United States, and three overseas. []

  • I remember attending for 3 years in the mid 80's and getting to use a scanning electron microscope and programming in Pascal on Apple II's with a computer science professor named Dr. Wirth. (No, not that Wirth.) It was really cool as a kid from rural NC to get to use the scanning electron microscope. We also made nylon string from 2 liquids in chemistry. I got to see the effect of liquid nitrogen on rubber balls and fruits. I have very fond memories of the experience.
  • Mine was an interesting situation. I had been turned down for Governor's Honors camp in GA and was so pissed off, I vowed I'd apply to the first summer program that was announced on the school radio. That turned out to be Math Skills Improvement, a six week algebra, trig, and pre-calculus cram session for juniors and seniors at Claflin College in SC, a historically all black school. I was the only white girl there. It was a good experience for me in many ways - I got paid $400 for being the token affirm
  • "Genesis Science and Technology Forum" / "Geek Camp" In New Zealand. It was an amazing experience, highly recommend to kids should do to inspire social connections in science + fun science. []
  • I had a blast at UVA's summer enrichment program. It looks like the program has changed a bit in 25 years: []

  • by voidstin ( 51561 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @11:59PM (#36842522)

    I went to New England Computer Camp. 8086 Assembly in the morning, Trapeze and Fire Eating in the afternoon. That was an awesome camp.

  • I have great memories of being in middle school and going to a "camp" at the highschool computer lab for several days in the summer. We got to play with legos (before mind storms and NXT) hooked up to Apple IIe's, programmed in Logo. That was the best.

    Later I got a job at the school and found the kits packed away in boxes in the basement. I got permission to borrow some kits and had a great time reliving the experience.

  • timothy, I recall meeting you at CTY one summer, probably in 2000... heh.

    One of the neat things that I recall about CTY was the relative level of independence you were given... yeah, you had to be places at certain times, and your whereabouts had to be accounted for, but you still had a lot of leeway, so there were opportunities to explore and interact outside the standard structure. Combine that with being around around other nerds, and it can be really rewarding for a kid at that age.
  • by Jeremy Erwin ( 2054 ) on Friday July 22, 2011 @03:21AM (#36843196) Journal

    I did CTY one summer, at Franklin and Marshall. I studied informal logic-- what math majors would probably dismiss as mere rhetoric. I got in trouble for going off with a bunch of my friends and playing D&D during "Mandatory Fun."

    • by smchris ( 464899 )

      I worked _for_ CTY in Baltimore and spent two summers on site at F&M in the '80s. It seemed like an extraordinary program. There was some institutional regimentation however, and I hear you about "Mandatory Fun." You understand that since you were hardly off campus, in class all day and study hall in the evening before being herded to your dorm "Mandatory Fun" was taken very seriously and intentionally planned to burn off youthful energy so you wouldn't go stir crazy?

    • by timothy ( 36799 ) * Works for Slashdot

      What year? I took logic w/ Scott Schreiber in 1990, and there was a Jeremy in my class ...


  • Stranded with only a hatchet, a pan, some fishing gear, a warm coat & "snow pants" I soon realized I needed shelter to survive the -40 degree nights so I built a suitable shelter in the lee of a tree. After nearly being caught in a storm too far from shelter, I stayed until Spring.

    Being totally disconnected from everyone and all electronics (they froze, and died) while surviving off the land (ice fishing at night, collecting firewood and sleeping during the day) for three solid months changed my perspective about what's really important. I spent a lot of time thinking while "camping" under the cold clear sky -- Shooting stars can be seen at least once every two hours, you can see our satellites orbiting with the naked eye, and the Aurora Borealis can appear in a myriad of shapes and colors, once as if the whole sky was a giant red wagon wheel.

    Our temperately stable planet is so beautiful yet insignificant -- The whole thing could disappear and the universe wouldn't notice at all, only our solar system might, a bit. The only real thing that matters now is getting off this rock so all our eggs aren't in one basket... We're so self important, petty and insignificant, but it's technology and sharing of knowledge that can make us great, if we put aside not-so-different differences we may even be able to survive the heat-death of the universe by creating our own stars.

    Perhaps it was more of an "anti-geek camp", but I'm truly more driven, easy-going and appreciative of all the amazing technology I have... I now walk away from wastes of time, enjoy in camaraderie, collaboration and contributing to software projects, and think of benefits and consequences in terms far beyond my own life-span. It was a true "thinking man's" experience, to say the least.

    • Thanks for sharing.

      See also: []
      "In this influential work about the staggering divide between children and the outdoors, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today's wired generation -- he calls it nature-deficit -- to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. Last Child in the Woods is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research

    • by Jamori ( 725303 )

      Re-responding as logged-in user....

      Stranded with only a hatchet, a pan, some fishing gear, a warm coat & "snow pants" I soon realized I needed shelter to survive the -40 degree nights so I built a suitable shelter in the lee of a tree. After nearly being caught in a storm too far from shelter, I stayed until Spring.

      Curious: were you really stranded in the Canadian wilderness with a hatchet? If so, that's incredibly interesting and impressive and I, too, thank you for sharing.

      I hope I'm not the only one who picked up some strong Hatchet [] / Brian's Winter [] vibes from your story :-)

  • ... especially in the comments :-)

  • Since the purpose of fat camp is to burn the fat... what the hell is going to happen to a nerd at nerd camp?

    Play sports all day to burn the nerd right out of you? Kill small furry creatures until you are a proper redneck? The HORROR!

    • Don't be ridiculous. That's like saying that Boy Scout camp is to burn the scouts... oh. I see. Carry on, then.
  • by AB3A ( 192265 ) on Friday July 22, 2011 @06:59AM (#36843930) Homepage Journal

    I was one of many children. We didn't go to camp much. Instead, we explored the city parks and library. We designed and built our own rockets with no adult supervision. Not all of them flew as expected. We explored forgotten civil war forts, mapped (and found) old trenches between forts, built ham radio gear and antennas, studied assembly language programming on a local university's DecSystem-20, and read mounds of science fiction.

    In short, I didn't need a camp to teach me how to do this stuff. I am a self made nerd.

  • In '88 as an 8th grader I met and dated my wife at CTY while I took trig. It was at the commuting site at Hopkins, which was probably less fun than the sites where you stayed there. It did seem like most of the kids just dicked around (my wife included), while I was cramming to try to actually pass out of a class. So I guess I would send my kids there, but with expectations set pretty low.
  • Went to Schnectedy for CTY, took etymology the summer after 7th grade. Fantastic program, wish I could've done it another year (but I was at the tail end of eligibility my first and only year). I also learned how to play Mao, Egyptian Ratscrew, and various other games. Played a lot of ultimate frisbee too. Plus, the dances weren't half bad, and casino night was awesome.
  • My experience consisted of qualifying, wanting to go, then not being able to go because it was so damned expensive and my parents couldn't afford it. This was Duke TIP. C'est la vie.
  • I attended the Governor's Honors program in Georgia the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. It was like a 6-week college experience. It was even held on a college campus. We had dorm rooms, intramural sports, mixers, and cafeteria food. We had to do our own laundry and had to keep the dorms tidy. We each had a major and a minor subject. The best part was being put together with kids of similar drive and talent but with very diverse backgrounds and interests. It helped me to break
  • The summer before my junior year of college I had the chance to be the assistant director (i.e. head geek) at CyberCamps in the Boston area. The camp taught a good variety of Web(HTML), C++, 3D design and introductory robotics.

    The courses were fun and decently challenging but the best part was seeing kids (ages 7-15) actually learn and use technology that they had never known or seen before. We had artists who learned graphic design for the first time, Lego kids who learned about microprocessors and serv

  • CTY in particular was life changing (F&M FTW!), I am so glad for that experience and the people I met there. Pennsylvania's Governor's School for the Sciences was also very well done, but I'll point out that PA has since cancelled its program because the state politicians are shortsighted idiots. Not that there's any other kind...
  • After participating in Duke University's TIP, I went to Intensive Mathematics Institute (IMI) at University of North Texas. Three weeks and I learned Algebra from one of the best textbooks I've ever seen. There was some socializing, too, but honestly, the best part was the math. Sad, I know. We did take a trip to Six Flags one weekend.

    The program had classes for Algebra I & II, Geometry, Pre-calculus, and Calculus. I had thought the program was gone, but I see that UNT now has an SMI program that l

  • University of Calgary's Mini University [] program was a day camp my sister and I did back in like 1984. I am happy it's still around to be honest :)

    As a day camp, you got to go learn about different faculties in the university. Predictably, the math and science sections got filled up first, but I ended up learning about Linguistics, raquetball, and silk screen printing instead (even made our own bootleg "Ghostbusters" t-shirts! :D). I was disappointed at first when I didn't get the uber-geek section, but was

  • Anybody else here do NCGS in the 80's? As I recall there were two - East and West. East was the more "progressive". We had classes in meditation, punk rock and hitch-hiking as well as our core subject area. Was a great time, and changed my life - tax dollars well spent.
  • I did 2 summers at the gifted program at Blair Academy in NJ. Rather than a single-subject experience like math camp or computer camp, it was more like college for kids.

    There was a wide variety of subjects available, most at the college level. And don't recall prerequisites being an issue. In the real world I was a math/science nerd, but at Blair I got to take things like creative writing.

    But I think more important than the academic aspect (for me) was the social aspect. With everyone living on campus w

  • ya, church camp. totally sucked.

    but it was there when i first made the decision i didn't believe in the crap they were spewing and wouldn't be getting involved ever again.

    Probably didn't learn as much as I might have at a nerd camp, but it did help guide my life for the better.


"I don't believe in sweeping social change being manifested by one person, unless he has an atomic weapon." -- Howard Chaykin