Labette County High School 2020 graduate Mattaya Gibbs has been chosen by the National Youth Science Foundation as one of two Kansas students to attend the 2020 National Youth Science Camp now happening. 

The National Youth Science Camp is a residential honors science program for young scientists for the summer after they graduate from high school. Each state and country conducts its own competition to select two delegates to attend the camp.

Coincidentally, Mattaya’s father, Dr. Robert Gibbs, was one of two students in the state to attend the same camp after he graduated high school, said Mattaya’s mother, Vicki Gibbs.

Mattaya is not sure how many applicants there were from Kansas, but she said the application process was rigorous requiring essays, references and a resume.

“I wasn’t sure I would be chosen because it’s only two people from every state and it’s a lot of people in the state of Kansas applying, and a lot who are well versed in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). When I got chosen they sent me an email about it and I was super excited,” Mattaya Gibbs said. “This was after COVID-19 had already begun to show up in the west, so I was so excited, but I was like, wait, how are they going to do this, because usually you go to West Virginia to an in-person camp. You can do hiking and you do lectures based on STEM and different subjects.”

Because of the national health emergency related to COVID-19, Gibbs and the other 107 delegates representing the United States, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago did not get to attend the expense-paid, three-week camp in the West Virginia mountains.

Instead, participants this year are attending a virtual camp, which includes a lecture series, breakout seminars, special events and a panel discussion with STEM experts.

Camp Director Dr. Brian Kinghorn noted that “these NYSCamp delegates are some of the best and brightest STEM students from across the nation and deserve to be recognized for their potential for leadership and achievements.”

Kinghorn said the virtual camp, now in its final week, is providing delegates opportunities to interact with STEM experts, build lasting friendships and get a jump start on changing the world for good.

Topics range from exploring and understanding the vastness of space to the microcosms of potential COVID-19 treatments.

Delegates are exploring the wonders of mathematics, the powerful potential of technology for education, adventures of paleontology, cutting edge neuroscience research and the varied possibilities of shaping STEM policy. The delegates also have opportunities to interact and connect with one another and join in interactive question and answer sessions with presenters.

“I was pleasantly surprised when I began the camp because they really put a lot of time and effort into making sure that it was up to par with the other camp experiences they have had in years past,” Mattaya Gibbs said. “They have a wide variety of lectures. You sign up for the lectures you want. And some of them are directed studies where you meet in a face-to-face call with a couple of other people, and then there is a lecturer and you do work with other delegates and make presentations. … It’s really like of we were there, and we’re able to talk amongst ourselves and discuss these different concepts.”

She said they even tricked out the different seminars they are doing to provide hands-on experiences for delegates.

“Besides just learning new, amazing, different things from all these qualified professionals from all around the world, basically, we get to connect with these people and everyone is so open to, ‘If you need anything at all, let me know,’ and they give you their email and contact information. And they are like, ‘If you want to know more about my major or my profession, call me, ask me, whatever you need.’ They are resources for anything I am going to do in the future,” she said.

In the fall, Mattaya Gibbs will attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a private research university in Troy, New York, where she will be majoring in computer and systems engineering.

“As far as career opportunities, I don’t really have anything in mind, basically because with technology degrees, there is a high percentage of jobs that will exist when I graduate that haven’t been invented yet,” she said. “So, I kind of keep that open. And it will depend on what I like most about the major, because you can go into many different avenues with that.”

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