Logo: University of Southern California

Smart Camp

Twenty gifted high school students attended USC's campus for a week to learn about energy resources
By: Vanessa Wilkins
July 10, 2014 —
Campers work together to create a wind-powered water lift at the USC Chevron Frontiers of Energy Resources Summer Camp.

The competition was fierce on the Parkside quad as four teams of students put the finishing touches on their Rube Goldberg contraptions. As the clock ran out, the students gathered around and waited for the judges to choose the winners. It would be a tough decision, as these students are some of the brightest in the country.

The USC Chevron Frontiers of Energy Resources Summer Camp provides the opportunity for some of the nation’s brightest high school students to explore the field of energy and renewable resources. Founded in 2009, the camp, which this year ran from June 22 to June 27, is better than ever, program manager Juli Legat said.

“During the beginning years we weren’t as competitive,” she said. “Now, the students are just incredibly outstanding.”

This year, only 20 of 200 applicants were chosen to participate in the program. Campers lived in campus dorms, ate at the USC dining halls and attended lectures in USC Viterbi classrooms, giving them an authentic college experience. The USC Chevron partnership enabled campers to attend for free.

The program included daily lectures from USC Viterbi professors and leaders in the energy industry. Students also went on an educational field trip to San Pedro to find fossils and participated in hands-on activities like coding computer programs and building functional wind tunnels out of toy pieces.

All camp counselors are current USC students, serving as mentors by answering questions and giving advice on all aspects of college life.

Counselor Anna Damir, who attended the program as a camper in 2010, loves interacting with the students. "It’s really fun knowing that I’m helping inspire kids to pursue the STEM field in college.”

High school senior Alex Kortepeter of Indianapolis, Ind. had never been to Los Angeles before, and was ecstatic to have been selected to the program.

“Energy is so much more complex than I first imagined, and the professionals who come in and talk to us really know their stuff,” Kortepeter said. “I think it’s really great that Chevron is reaching out to train young minds to think about how we’re going to sustain this world in the future.”

Kortepeter added that he most enjoyed making new friends. “It’s nice to meet people who have so much in common with me. I stay up late with the guys, and we talk about everything you can imagine.”

Camper Yuliana Chacon of Midland, Texas echoed Kortepeter’s enthusiasm, and said that the camp made her more confident.

“When I came here I was so nervous! I thought that I wasn’t going to fit in because sometimes when people look at me they don’t think I have the brains to be an engineer,” she said. “But I’ve realized that even though we are all different, we each have something to give in our own individual ways, and it’s awesome to hear other people’s experience and what they’ve gone through.”

Chacon, a Venezuela native, said she hopes to become a petroleum engineer or a petrophysicist to make a difference.

At the end of the week, the students were assigned a comprehensive research project that incorporated the lessons that they have learned throughout the week into a real-life example. The students presented the project on the last day of camp, which was followed by an award ceremony.

Legat, the camp’s program manager, said she is thankful to Chevron for continuing to sponsor the program year after year, because of its benefit to the nation’s future leaders.

“This camp resonates with them, and it sparks this little fire inside of them that makes them want to continue and continue,” she said. “I keep in touch with many of the students, and they are super appreciative.”