The camper was standing off to the side after the day’s program at Adventure Summer Camp, watching other kids free-play and ride mountain bikes. Although camp was well underway, at times his hands still seemed to tap aimlessly by his side without a game controller to hold onto.

Confused as to why this boy — who up until this point had been one of the most enthusiastic leaders in every game — wasn’t joining in, counselor Brandon Driscoll tried to coax him to ask for a turn on one of the bikes.

“I don’t know how,” came the simple reply, eyes staring straight ahead, refusing to meet Driscoll’s, even as a slow red blush started to creep onto his 13-year-old cheeks.

Camp administrator Brandon Driscoll understands  the impact a camp experience can have on adolescents.

Camp administrator Brandon Driscoll understands the impact a camp experience can have on adolescents.
Image Credit: Youth Learning Institute

In this quiet confession, Driscoll saw an opportunity. He called two other counselors over and asked them to bring a bike. Seeing it wheeled over, the boy balked at first, but under the counselors’ assurances, he took a chance.

Again and again he tried, at first tilting this way and that, then straighter and straighter still.

Finally, he rode that bike across the field on his own, the three counselors running alongside cheering.

“Afterward, he looked up at me and said, ‘Thanks Mr. Brandon,’” said Driscoll. “I asked him what for, and he told me that if he’d been home, he wouldn’t have had anyone else to play with outside so he simply wouldn’t. He would stay inside and play his video games because at least then there was someone on the other side.”

While most people only think of camp in terms of a week, camp leaders know it’s so much more.

“What we know is that a one-week experience can last a lifetime,” said Pamela Bryant, director of public information for the Clemson University Youth Learning Institute (YLI). “Kids try new things, meet new friends and find out more about themselves and their talents. So much of that is transferable toward the classroom, toward how they act back home and even toward their future. It truly has lifetime value.”

The art of camping

Being part of campers’ first outdoors experiences never ceases to thrill Driscoll — and he’s been involved in camps since he was a Clemson student himself. Now, he manages Camp Hannon, which is one of the many properties operated by YLI.

The idea of having new experiences, being outside and being independent, epitomizes what camp is supposed to be. To teach “the art of camping” to kids, to see the smiles stretched over their faces during each program hooked Driscoll from the beginning.

The variety of Clemson camp initiatives — from traditional outdoors and sports options to specialized academic options — assures that all kids can find a camp experience that best fits their interests. Whether it’s lighting a Bunsen burner or a campfire, each camper finds encouragement from staff and counselors to follow his or her own passion or the courage to discover a new one.

Testing out the future

Camille Swanson, far right, has been a part of Summer Scholars as both a camper and a counselor.

Camille Swanson, far right, has been a part of Summer Scholars as both a camper and a counselor.
Image Credit: Youth Learning Institute

Take Clemson sophomore Camille Swanson. Her story shows that it’s not just the outdoor camps that are exciting interest in kids. Academically-geared programs such as Clemson’s Summer Scholars attract the best and brightest rising seventh through twelfth graders from around the world and give them an opportunity for hands-on learning in a subject of their choosing.

As a rising ninth grader back in 2009, Swanson was intrigued by the biology course offerings of the Summer Scholars program. At the time, she was a hopeful future doctor and felt it would be a good opportunity to explore her dream career before having to make a college commitment. The lab activities at camp would give her the hands-on learning to help tie in the reality of a career as a doctor and the type of learning experience she would have later.

Through the dissections and labs, she found a permanent love of science that has followed her in her Clemson experience. Although she switched from physics into economics after her freshman year, Swanson says that she finds her Summer Scholars experience has continued to support her academics. To her, economics is the science of business. Now, it’s just more about connecting micro factors into market predictions rather than connecting the minute elements of physics or the human body.

From camper to camp leader

Just like the 13-year boy who learned to ride a bike, Swanson had her own fears that camp helped her overcome.

“It was tough at first, being around so many new people,” she said. “I was reserved as a kid. But the atmosphere at camp is like no other. It helped me come out of my shell.”

Students have the opportunity to choose among athletic, outdoor and academically-geared camps at Clemson.

Students have the opportunity to choose among athletic, outdoor and academically geared camps at Clemson.
Image Credit: Clemson University

By the end of her week, the shy girl with the quietest voice in her group had a new confidence. She was no longer afraid of speaking to new people. In fact, it’s hard to believe that the bubbly sophomore she is today ever had a hard time speaking out.

That summer left Swanson with a list of new friends, a newfound confidence and a permanent love of Clemson.

No matter where these campers’ paths take them, exploring them at such a young age gives them the opportunity to plant their roots deep into the interests that will carry them through the rest of their lives.

Four years after her Summer Scholars experience, Swanson found herself a Clemson student, but she certainly wasn’t through with camp. After finding out that she now had the opportunity to be a counselor herself, she quickly seized the opportunity.

“Camille stood out to us in her interview from the beginning with her positive attitude and obvious love for [the University],” said Chelsea Schwabe, director of Summer Scholars. “Through our program, we hope to grow our scholars into the best and brightest Tigers that Clemson has ever seen, and Camille is absolutely a testament to that.”

“Once I knew I had the opportunity to come back as a counselor, I was excited because I could relate to the campers since I’d been in their shoes [having been] a camper myself,” said Swanson. “It wasn’t just a job.”

Story by summer-rich story, Swanson brings her past experience with Summer Scholars back to life with recollections from both her camper and counselor experiences. There were the dorms where she and the campers would congregate in the hallway to swap stories at the end of a long day. There was the mixed look of shock and amazement on her fellow campers’ faces at the first dissection. Above all, there was the easy sense of community that allowed her to open up to and start leading others.

The images are right there, always at the front of her mind and ready to share with any others who need to find just a little more confidence in themselves.


Online registration for summer programs are now open. Early bird discounts are available through April 1. See a list of Clemson summer camps at http://clemson.edu/aspire.