The sound of hammering, laughter, and conversation echoed inside Cheatham Hall as eager high school students learned about natural resources through a variety of experiments and lessons.

Twelve high school students were part of the first InsideTREES summer camp held at Virginia Tech from June 9 to 13. This free camp allowed students to experience and learn about sustainable biomaterials with faculty, staff, and students in the university’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.

“The summer program is there to increase the awareness of our field of study and rewarding careers that are available within the sustainable biomaterials field,” said Audrey Zink-Sharp, program coordinator for InsideTREES and interim head of the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials.

Zink-Sharp, along with other faculty and graduate students in the college, aims to offer a program for students that will increase their awareness of college and career opportunities. During the camp, students participated in activities centered on the growth of trees and the structure and cellular properties of wood.

Students were also exposed to wood science, forestry, and engineering through hands-on activities, group projects, labs, and field trips.

Participants had the opportunity to work one-on-one with current students and talk to advisors in the college. They also asked a panel of students majoring in sustainable biomaterials questions about their experience and expertise in the field.

“First and foremost, I want them to have some fun with us while they are learning about sustainable biomaterials creation and the environmental aspects,” said Zink-Sharp. “I want them to have a passion and an excitement about sustainable and renewable biomaterials principally based on wood because it is the most widely used sustainable biomaterial.”

The program, aimed mostly at female and minority students who live in rural areas, is open to all high schoolers interested in sustainability and natural resources.

“I wanted to learn more about how we use trees in our daily lives, why wood is such a cool material, its impact on the environment, and how the different structures of wood help us use it,” said Jillian Dowlin, a high school junior from New Jersey. “I would say that’s exactly what we are doing.”

The students attending the camp ranged from high school freshmen to rising seniors from a variety of states. Each had a different idea of what major they might pursue in college and how sustainability or biomaterials could fit into their experiences.

“Sustainability is really important ... I want to be a part of that,” said Ashley Tillman, a high school junior from Virginia.

Zink-Sharp said the department plans to host the camp again next year and use it as a guide for others.

“The goal is to create the program, evaluate it, revise it, offer it again, and then publish and present the results to other people interested in sustainable biomaterials university education,” said Zink-Sharp.

Written by Haley Cummings

Students at InsideTrees camp.
High school students work in groups at InsideTREES camp.