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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


Deadline to apply is March 31 – Blind Chemistry Camp for High School Students at Enchanted Hills


Would you like to learn how blind people tackle the very visual subject of organic chemistry successfully? Do you have a general love for science? Do you want to learn how you can do chemistry as a blind person just as successfully as your sighted peers? Do you want to apply the chemistry you learned to food such as olive oil? Are you interested in how blind professionals use science in their careers every day? Then the 2014 California Chemistry Camp is for you.

Come join Accessible Science for an Educational, exciting, and Fun-Filled weekend of hands-on science.

When: Friday, May 2 through Sunday, May 4
Where: Enchanted Hills Camp near Napa, California
Who: Up to fifteen blind high school students ages 14-18 will be selected to participate
Cost: There is no cost to apply for the program
Deadline to apply is March 31, 2014

For Chemistry Camp program information & application please go here or contact Angela Fowler, Director of Planning at Accessible Science at fowlers@syix.com or 530-902-0987.

Chemistry Camp student is handed a beaker of chemicals by an instructor

Attention All High School Students

Are you looking for something to spice up your summer plans? If so, NFB STEM-X, the latest National Center for Blind Youth in Science (NCBYS) program, is just what you’ve been waiting for! This inquiry-based science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program will provide participants with learning opportunities in STEM disciplines ranging from engineering and robotics to the science of cooking.

If you have attended or heard about previous NCBYS programs, like NFB Youth Slam or NFB Project Innovation, you are familiar with the exciting opportunities such programs provide. So, follow the link below and apply today! And don’t forget to tell your friends to do the same! Applications close at 11:50 p.m. on May 15, 2013.

  • Who: Blind students currently in grades 8-12
  • What: A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn new and exciting information in STEM and experience a small taste of life on a college campus while meeting new friends
  • Where: Towson University, Towson, Maryland (just north of Baltimore)
  • When: July 29 to August 3, 2013
  • Hashtag: #NFBSTEMX

To learn more, or to apply please visit www.blindscience.org/STEMX.

Questions about the program can be directed to Natalie Shaheen at nshaheen@nfb.org.

Special Chemistry Camp Informational Phone Conference

When: Tuesday, March 12 from 6:00-7:00 p.m. Pacific time
Call (218) 339-2500 and use access code: 958093

During this call you’ll get an overview of camp by founder and coordinator Hoby Wedler, and get important information about filling out the application and applying for Chemistry Camp, details on camp logistics, and perhaps most importantly, hear testimonials from past mentors, instructors, and student alum! There will be plenty of time for your questions and comments throughout the call.

If you want more information on how blind students can study extremely visual subjects or want information on talking constructively with people who tell you that you can’t study visual subjects, this call is sure to answer some of your questions about accessibility and most importantly, about how you or a blind or low vision high school student you know can easily participate in the 2013 chemistry camp.

Blind Chemistry Camp for High School Students

Would you like to learn how blind people tackle the very visual subject of organic chemistry successfully? Do you have a general love for science? Are you a blind or low vision teenager considering a career in chemistry? Then the 2013 California Chemistry Camp is for you!

During this exciting and action-packed 3-day experience, students will get to learn how blind and visually impaired people use chemistry in their careers. We will explore techniques to make chemistry accessible. Take part in hands-on chemistry experiments, apply chemistry to cooking, and do magic with chemistry.

When: Friday, May 3, 2013 through Sunday, May 5, 2013
Where: Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa, California
Who: Up to fifteen blind high school students ages 14-18 will be selected to participate
Fee: Free

Transportation will be provided to and from Enchanted Hills Camp from pick-up points in the Bay Area and in Sacramento. Campers will arrive back at drop-off spots at 4 PM on Sunday, May 5. Or parents can choose to drive their child to and from Enchanted Hills Camp.

For an application or questions for this free camp, contact Angela Fowler, Director of Planning, Accessible Science at fowlers@syix.com or 530-902-0987. We hope to see you this spring at Enchanted Hills!

To Prospective NASA Student Interns with Disabilities,

NASA is looking to increase the number of students with disabilities pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers through our internship programs. Students can apply for summer internships now! The deadline for submitting applications is Friday, March 15, 2013. However, NASA will begin extending offers to students as early as February 2, 2013. So, apply early because the best opportunities are likely to be filled early. Plus, the likelihood of being selected decreases the longer students wait.

If you are interested you can register for an account and look for internships anytime at the One Stop Shopping Initiative (OSSI): NASA Internships, Fellowships, and Scholarships (NIFS) at http://intern.nasa.gov. Summer 2013 internships run for ten weeks for college students and six to eight weeks for high school students, from early/late June through early/mid-August. College students receive a stipend of $6000 and high school students $1800. NASA internships for college students are also offered during spring, fall and year-long sessions.

Internships are available at all NASA centers nationwide.

For more information or for help with applying, please contact Kenneth A. Silberman, Esq. by phone at (301) 286-9281 or by email at kenneth.a.silberman@nasa.gov.

Still Time to Register for the CABS Breaking Down Barriers Seminar

Come join the California Association of Blind Students (CABS) for a day of fun and learning.

  • Hear from blind students/professionals who have been successful in science related fields
  • Empower yourself to gain the skills and confidence which will help you achieve success in school and work
  • Learn about the technology which is breaking new ground in accessibility
  • Get tips and techniques on advocating for the things you need
  • Mix and mingle with successful blind people

When:   September 21, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Where:  Sacramento State University, 6000 J Street, Student Union, Orchard Suite, Sacramento, CA 95819

Registration will start at 10:00 a.m. and there will be plenty of time to browse the exhibits before the program starts at 11:00.

To RSVP, please visit www.nfbcal.org/cabs or contact CABS president Angela Fowler at 530-902-0987 or fowlers@syix.com.




Camp Class Teaches Blind Kids the Practical Use of Chemistry

Last year the LightHouse began a wonderful tradition, that of providing the perfect setting for Chemistry Camp, a weekend opportunity for blind and visually impaired high school students to experience accessible chemistry while having fun. In May we hosted the second annual Chemistry Camp session, in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind of California, the California Association of Blind Students and the University of California, Davis Chemistry department. Chemistry Camp facilitator and blind UC Davis chemistry graduate student Henry “Hoby” Wedler described this year’s goings on:

Really the idea behind Chemistry Camp is the scenario where the kids come in not knowing how much they can learn – maybe they know a little about chemistry but they think of it as a visual subject. We teach that there is a lot they can do without being able to see and we let them figure this out during the session. We also want to show them how doing chemistry translates to getting a real job.
Hoby Wedler helps student Jimmy Cong add baking soda, citric acid and water to a plastic bag at Chemistry Camp 2012. Jimmy is listening and feeling for the evolution of carbon dioxide gas produced when the citric acid and sodium bicarbonate react, indicating the reaction has taken place.
We had a great group this year! The class consisted of ten high school kids, ages 14 to 18; five blind mentors; three volunteers and several sighted instructors. The kids were recruited from 20 schools for the blind from all over the country. We started on the first day with active, hands-on experiments. We had the kids create chemical reactions by mixing chemicals and then had them observe the mixtures for changes. For example, the kids made esters – they combined stinky/odorous chemicals with other components in order to make pleasing fruity scents. Then we explained that what they were doing is exactly what chemists who produce fruit flavored cereal do. That afternoon we got into a discussion of acids and bases – what makes them that way, and all about pH. Now at the schools they typically teach the kids to observe color to determine when an acid or base is neutralized. Our kids did the same experiments and used their sense of smell to tell when the solutions change. For example, the smells of onion or garlic, which are acidic, become neutralized by Windex, which is a base.

In addition, Bill Gerry, a blind electrical engineer who has been working in his field for 40 years, spoke to the class. He’s a real role model; he talked to the kids about learning to advocate for yourself and how hard work makes you feel good about yourself at the end of the day.

On day two we brought in two speakers from Davis; Professor Jared Shaw, a natural products chemist, and Selina Wang, the research director at the Davis Olive Center, to continue the discussion about how the kids might use chemistry in their everyday careers. Also the UC Davis Chemistry Club performed their famous magic show where experiments are conducted in front of an audience with theatrical flair – the kids had a great time.

I think the main take-away for the kids was ‘Wow, there are people all around us getting paid for doing work just like what we did on day one.’ But the absolute best part of the weekend was seeing these blind students get together with each other and really form a group, one that got really comfortable with each other and could talk to each other about issues that blind people face. Being blind is not that big of deal; it’s a minor nuisance. And it’s so refreshing to see the kids grow and learn so much from each other both in the classroom and afterwards, during social time around the campfire.

We’re excited to learn that Hoby has a half-day presentation planned for campers in our Enchanted Hills Camp Teen Session, which takes place at the end of July. He promises to bring “lots of fun things to do; I’m trying to get some cool demos and we might also talk about chemistry in the classroom, how to think about science and advocate for oneself, and more.”

Learn More About Chemistry Camp
Chemistry Camp was featured last year in stories by Amy Standen that were broadcast on National Public Radio and Bay Area station KQED.

Read what we wrote about last year’s Chemistry Camp here.

Hoby Wedler Honored as a Champion of Change

Hoby Wedler (right) with Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to President Obama for Disability Policy at the award ceremony for the White House Champions of Change
Also in May, the White House “Champions of Change” program honored Hoby, as part of a group of fourteen people who were given the award for leading education and employment efforts in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for Americans with disabilities. Hoby, who is working towards his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at UC Davis, is helping to prove that blind people can master concepts in a field that is considered highly visual. “It’s a tremendous honor to have the president recognize our work,” he said. Read Hoby’s blog post about why and how he is studying chemistry and watch a White House video of the panel discussion about employment in STEM fields that Hoby (referred to by his proper first name Henry) participated in. (That particular panel discussion begins about 55 minutes in.)

Chemistry Camp

KQED’s Quest recently rebroadcast a feature about our 2011 Chemistry Camp, which was held at Enchanted Hills Camp. The LightHouse offered the session in collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind of California, the California Association of Blind Students and the University of California, Davis Chemistry Department.

Click here to listen to the story or read a transcript here.