VENUS — What did you want to be when you were a child? Did you ever dress up and pretend to be an astronaut, police officer, or maybe the President? This summer, campers at Archbold Biological Station in Venus pictured their future science careers during an original arts project called #MyScienceFuture. For more than 100 children attending Archbold’s Ecology Summer Camp sessions, this multi-day project culminated in professional photo shoots and messages they wrote for themselves, their families, and the public. #MyScienceFuture combines photography appreciation, imaginative play, drawing, and creative writing as tools for learning about nature and science.

Dustin Angell, Archbold’s director of education, says the project grew from the idea of using his Florida Stewards photo project, more than 75 portraits of local scientists he has taken over the last five years (visit his site: dustinangellphoto.com), to get kids to explore a future career in science. He explains, “At first we were just going to discuss the scientist’s photos and draw self-portraits in different science careers, but I couldn’t resist the idea of adding photo shoots with the kids. And after that, I added a writing piece so they could reflect on the experience.”

For their portraits, the campers selected from a dress-up box of clothing and tools borrowed from Archbold researchers. Some campers were very specific when choosing their outfits and props, wanting to represent an ornithologist (bird scientist) or herpetologist (studies reptiles and amphibians), while others selected a mix of whatever interested them. Two campers used the opportunity to dress up like their role models, relatives that worked at Archbold. Eva, age 8, found a fishing net and struck the same pose seen in Dustin’s portrait of her older sister, biologist Lexi Siegle.

The campers’ writings reflected a variety of personal relationships with nature and science. Colton, age 7, wrote, “I like catching fish and snakes because it’s fun.” Mason, age 10, seemed to appreciate the value of field stations, writing, “Herpetology. Where a reptile person can be a reptile person. Where a reptile can be a reptile.” Noah, age 10, found inspiration in nature, reflecting, “We humans are like birds. We fall and get back up again.” Waylon, age 9, didn’t want a picture showing his face, but consented to a ‘portrait’ of his hands holding a deer skull. In his writing, Waylon declared proudly, “I hunt these with my dad.”

Some campers chose to write about the importance of caring for nature. Cristian, age 8, wrote, “I think you should treat nature fairly and you should not pollute nature.” He goes on to explain that he fell in love with nature when he lived near the woods and that he tries to help injured animals. Attia, age 10, wrote a message that echoes the golden rule, “I believe that animals should be treated how we want to be treated. We want to be treated with kindness and to be treated fairly. We are all living things.”

The three children of the Kulick family — Bridie, Royal, and Theron — used the experience as an opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to science or conservation. Royal, age 10, even discussed her top college pick, writing “I really want to be an entomologist. I’ve always loved being in nature and collecting insects. I pin them and study them. I want to go to UF for college. They have one of the best entomology departments in the world. Entomology is my passion.”

Royal’s mother, Beth Kulick was thankful of the Archbold staff for creating the ambitious art project, writing, “There just aren’t words to adequately describe this project. I’m at a loss. As adults, we can appreciate the effort and art you’ve put in here, but we can’t know yet what impact this has on these kids. I truly expect this to go really far and have an immeasurable effect on these kids.”

Hilary Swain, Archbold’s director, echoed the views of parents, “The children’s art, their writing, and Dustin’s portraits have triggered a stunned admiration and even raised a few tears among our staff and board members. Beyond the extremely cute photographs lies a deeper message: scientists are desperately looking for how we can connect children with science, and yet here are these same children, in their own imaginative words and pictures, telling us the myriad ways we can help them make that connection. Kudos to Dustin Angell for combining vision, creative skills, and his astonishing insights into how children think, to bring this project to fruition.”

You should be able to see more of this project when Dustin opens an exhibit in Highlands County for the public sometime this fall, or you can view a selection now at www.facebook.com/scrubedu

Archbold Biological Station, a non-profit science, conservation, and education organization, has offered summer camp sessions for Highlands County families since 1992. Each year they find new ways to connect children with science, fostering those “Aha!” moments that spark a lifetime of appreciation for nature and learning. Registration for next summer opens March 2020, but in the meantime, families are invited to visit the Station’s self-guided trails any day of the week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free and group tours can be purchased in advance.

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