July 21, 2008

Last Polar Bear Summer Camp: A Recap

Posted by: Keely Gnagy and Tim Stetter

What do you get when you cross a dozen middle school students with cameras, a polar bear exhibit, and researchers on the UW campus? Fantastic photography exhibits about environmental issues! The students joined Burke Education staff during the week of July 14 for a summer camp based on the current Burke exhibit, The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World. During the camp, the students learned about the basics of climate science, some of the challenges we are likely to face because of it, and what we can do about it.

One of the things we can do is raise awareness about an issue that is important to us, just like Steven Kazlowski, the photographer of “The Last Polar Bear,” did by taking photographs to bring attention to the plight of the polar bear in the warming Arctic. Using disposable cameras, what they learned throughout the week, and their imaginations, the campers created their own exhibits focused on topics such as recycling, transportation choices, native and non-native plants, human eco-footprints, and the power and beauty of nature.

The Burke’s collection was a fantastic resource for the campers. They were able to touch polar bear fur and stand nose to nose with a polar bear skull from the Mammalogy Collection. We saw angler fish, sharks, and sun fish at the Burke’s incredible Fish Collection with tour guide Rachel Schoen, a graduate student in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. And we were able to use artifacts from Arctic culture, like snow goggles and the intestine material used to make rainproof gear, to imagine the life of a person living in the Arctic environment.

We also learned a lot and had a great time visiting other research centers and talking to scientists on the UW campus. Dr. Kevin Rennert from the Department of Atmospheric Sciences taught us about climate change and the Arctic. We learned about ways plants adapt to climate with Fleur Beckwith, a graduate student at the Botany Greenhouse. We visited the Applied Physics Lab and talked with Dr. Mike Steele, an oceanographer at the Polar Science Center. And we learned about cameras and photography from professional photographer Joe Burnett.

On Friday afternoon, the students displayed their exhibits in the Burke Room. Friends and family attended a reception in their honor. One visitor commented, “I wish I was a kid so I could be in this camp!”

What an awesome week! And what incredible photography exhibits. It was an honor to spend the week with students who are so motivated to learn and to make a difference.

- Keely and Tim