The Future of Camp Turf

Story and images by Shelley Mitchell

During summer break, many students suffer a “summer achievement gap.” While many students have the opportunity to attend summer programs or go on family trips and engage in activities that increase their exposure to science, math and language arts, other students do not have those opportunities. By the time school starts in the fall, students who haven’t been engaged during the summer are up to five months behind their peers, spending the first few months of school attempting to catch up. Over twelve summers, students with few summer opportunities are well behind their peers academically, and this affects their future opportunities.

In an effort to shrink the summer achievement gap, Oklahoma’s State Regents for Higher Education have sponsored summer science and math academies throughout the state since 1991. The academies are for secondary students, and are a chance for all Oklahoma students to experience a short time at colleges across the state. Academies may be commuter or residential, and focus on a variety of topics, from computers and forensics to animal behavior and chemistry. The academies give students, primarily those from first-generation or minority families, or families qualified for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (Oklahoma’s Promise), a chance to see that science and math are relevant in their daily lives. It also gives the students enough time at college, and interaction with professors, to see that going to college is within their means. The strategy works; the average Oklahoma high school graduate has a 56% chance of attending college within one year of graduation. Students who have attended at least one Regents summer academy have a college attendance rate of 76%. Attendees also score higher on the ACT and require fewer remediation courses in college.

One summer academy has been hosted by the OSU Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture since 2010, after Dr. Shelley Mitchell was awarded funds to start Camp TURF (Tomorrow’s Undergraduates Realizing the Future). Camp TURF is a two-week residential program during June each summer. Oklahoma students explore careers in the horticulture and landscape architecture fields and live on campus during the program. Daily activities include time with professors in laboratories, classrooms, and field research stations. Activities are engaging and hands-on, with sessions such as making pervious concrete, grafting and cloning plants, extracting strawberry DNA, making bonsai and dish gardens, filming a segment of Oklahoma Gardening, demonstrations of personal protective equipment, and landscape design. Other activities include the outdoor adventure ROPES course, career discovery tests, visits with the admissions counselors, and a campus tour with a landscape architect.

Each summer, up to 25 students from around Oklahoma participate in Camp TURF. Attendees have recently completed their eighth or ninth grade year in school. From 2010 through 2017, 176 attendees have represented 34 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. Of the attendees, 34% have represented families qualified for free tuition (Oklahoma’s Promise), 36% will be the first in their family to attend college, and 53% were minorities. Many of those who have since graduated from high school have gone on to college, with most of those majoring in a science or medical field. Biochemistry, physical therapy, nursing, health and exercise science, veterinary technology, pharmacy, chemistry, biology, microbiology, environmental science, plant science, and landscape architecture represent some of their fields of study.

Even with careful allotment of funds, Camp TURF costs $33,500 a year. The academy is free for attendees. All food, lodging, transportation, and supply fees are covered by the State Regents. Unfortunately, due to extreme budget cuts, the budget for Camp TURF 2018 has been halved, and the future of the summer academy program is unknown. Efforts are being made to seek donations so that Camp TURF can run at full capacity this summer, and maybe even next summer. Currently Camp TURF 2018 is $11,000 short of being able to run at full capacity. Any donations will be greatly appreciated by the camp directors and future attendees of Camp TURF. Please help this successful program continue!

For more information about Camp TURF, or to donate funds or services, contact Dr. Shelley Mitchell at shelley.mitchell@okstate.edu or 405-744-5755.