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Five Weeks At Nerd Camp

When I got the acceptance packet for The Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences in the mail, I had a bunch of mixed feelings.

PGSS
PGSS Class Picture / C. Bunn

I was excited to get away for 5 weeks in the summer. It was pretty much a once in a lifetime opportunity to stay at Carnegie Mellon University and to learn from some of the best faculty and staff in the world.

However, the idea of doing work in the middle of the summer didn’t exactly appeal to me. I was reluctant to do summer reading, much less complete an entire research project and summer courses.

But I decided to take a chance. I filled out all of my paperwork, signed up for as many courses as I could, and waited for June 28th to roll around. After I came back from my service trip to the Philippines, I had an entire week to pack up and prepare myself before I headed to Pittsburgh.

The hardest part of the entire 5 weeks came on the first day when I had to endure the painfully awkward 2-hour square dance. It was super corny, and the reluctance in the room was more than evident. Despite this, it turned out to be the ultimate icebreaker.

Classes started the next day, and they proved to be quite the challenge. While I expected science, I really didn’t expect Discrete Mathematics or Spatial Relativity. With problem sets in hand, I didn’t feel super confident leaving the lecture hall.

As deadlines approached and problem sets grew in size, my nights grew longer. I usually stayed up to two or three in the morning, dreading the 8am lecture.

I quickly became the poster child for collaboration. The other students were the most important part of the experience. Going in, I expected to be surrounded by a bunch of reclusive, antisocial, calculus robots.

I couldn’t have been more happy to be wrong.

Sure, almost everyone there ran track or played an instrument, but it was the most diverse group of students I have ever seen. You had your nerds, but you also had artists, athletes, writers, readers, and people who could actually complete the physics problem sets. We were all united by our common passion for science.

Even though we all worked hard, we played harder. Whether it was super intense scattergory games or the annual No-Talent Show, everyone appreciated the break from the problem sets.

As camp progressed, this social aspect of camp really became important. I could have been on someone’s team for the Goofy Olympics one day and by next week we could be working on Mathematical Finance problems.

Even late nights started to become more bearable. Sure, it became a struggle to stay awake as my sleep schedule became more and more irregular. But the 1am pizza and the conversations with my floormates made the grogginess worth it.

Our research project was also another point of unity. As we spent hours building and refining our project, our group became immensely, almost unreasonably, proud of what we were doing. Everyone threw themselves into their work, and we couldn’t have been more proud of the end result.

By the time August 1 rolled around, I was extremely reluctant to go. It was as if I had became a family with 59 other people. I honestly wouldn’t trade the experience and the opportunity for anything else in the world.

Applications for PGSS 2016 should be available on the PGSS Website soon. Last year’s deadline was January 31, 2015.  According to the website, academically talented high school students who are residents of Pennsylvania and are current juniors at the time of the application deadline may apply. Applicants will be expected to demonstrate academic achievement, interest in the sciences and mathematics, and a record of pursuing this interest in activities beyond the classroom.

The program relies on alumni and supporter donations to run each year since the state cut funding to the Pennsylvania Governor’s Schools of Excellence in 2008.

About Chris Bunn

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4 comments

  1. it gordon ruled.

  2. it was juan hael of a time

  3. I attended the graduation dinner and was most impressed by the students, faculty and the objectives of the program. Sadly, I have learned that the Governor has not included the Governor’s school in his budget. Please ask your parents and yourself to send your state representative and state senator a note asking that the program be added to the budget.

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