Hoby Wedler’s Formula for a Successful Chemistry Camp

Last month University of California, Davis graduate student Hoby Wedler led Chemistry Camp at Enchanted Hills for the fourth year in a row. Wedler, who is blind, is studying chemistry and was among 14 people celebrated in 2012 at the White House as part of the President’s Champion of Change program honoring leading the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for people with disabilities. Hoby was kind enough to write a summary of this year’s session.

Chemistry Camp is a very exciting time for everyone involved. When I came to the LightHouse with the idea of hosting a chemistry camp at Enchanted Hills, I had no idea how much fun it would be for everyone involved. This year’s session was an incredible learning environment for campers, mentors, instructors, volunteers, and everyone else who played a part in it. What I love about Chemistry Camp is the metamorphosis the students go through. They come in timid about doing chemistry and leave excited to study whatever they want, regardless of their blindness. It is invigorating, enlightening, and refreshing for me each year we do a Chemistry Camp to observe how much the students change.

This year we had nine exceptional campers and six terrific mentors. Six of our campers came from Northern California, one came from Texas, one from Chicago, and one from Southern Mexico – a diverse group that was very intelligent and receptive to everything we did.

It was a full weekend. The session started on Friday with a campfire where the group shared why they were at camp. Each person took a turn to speak which helped everyone get to know each other and led to great post-campfire conversation. Saturday was full of chemistry, philosophy talk, cooking, and inspirational speaking for our chemistry campers. Joseph Retherford, a mentor and student from UC Davis, gave an enlightening and insightful keynote address about losing his sight and learning how to be a successful blind person. Sunday morning our students awoke at 5:00 a.m. for an early morning hike to Enchanted Hills’ lower chapel where we gave out awards for completing camp. We then hiked the hill to breakfast, and listened to lectures by UC Davis professionals who use chemistry in their everyday careers and by NASA scientists who study organic matter in meteorites. Students heard about organic natural products, computational organic chemistry, and olive oil tasting. The day was finished off with a magic show put on by the UC Davis Chemistry Club and a tactile tour of objects from space as old as five billion years. This year’s Chemistry Camp inspired us all to reach for the stars and turn our dreams into realities.

You can hear more about Hoby and Chemistry Camp in Amy Standen’s 2011 report, broadcast on NPR or read the transcript.

Students Jack Veliquette and Therese Wales