This summer, Gates County, North Carolina was abuzz with activity as it hosted two exciting and enriching camps for local students: Digital Brilliance Hour and Saunders Science Scholars/ACTivate Futures. Offered by Gates County Community Partnership (GCCP), these camps delivered opportunities for middle and high school students to delve into game development, music production, and college readiness, fostering creativity, learning, and personal growth.

Funded by Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Digital Brilliance Hour was a three-day camp focused on game development and music production for 7th through 10th graders. This camp combined the rigor of a bootcamp with the practical experience of an internship, all within a hands-on curriculum. The campers explored various aspects of STEEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Arts, Math), channeling their creativity into technical skills.

Instructors Kevin Epps, Caleb Stowe, Josiah Laster, and Michael Bernal, of the Durham based Digital Brilliance Hour, guided the students through the intricacies of game development and music production. The first day introduced the basics, allowing students to choose their preferred path. Game development enthusiasts joined Caleb and Josiah in the computer lab to learn coding, game terminology, and character design. Meanwhile, Kevin and Michael led the music production group, teaching beat making, mixing, and recording techniques.

By the final day, the camp had successfully produced two remarkable projects: a game titled “Beats of Rage” and a music album named “Starry Skies.” The students not only gained technical skills but also boosted their confidence and developed a passion for STEEAM.

Running concurrently, the Saunders Science Scholars/ACTivate Futures College Readiness Camp targeted high school juniors and seniors. This initiative, a collaboration between Gates County Community Partnership and Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, included participants from Gates County Schools, Hertford County Public Schools, and Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools.

The week-long camp began with an inspiring session by Dr. Crystal Harden of UNC-CH and an intensive ACT training session by APlus Test Prep, out of Durham. Throughout the week, students engaged in various development sessions, including college application simulations and resume building workshops led by UNC staff members Davron Rorie and Fredi Neilsen. These sessions equipped students with essential skills for their college and scholarship applications.

One of the highlights of the camp was the college tour portion based in Norfolk, Virginia, where students explored the campuses of Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, and Hampton University. They also learned about coastal resilience at the Ryan Resilience Lab, enjoyed nature kayaking, visited the Norfolk Botanical Garden, and enjoyed water and volleyball at Ocean View Beach Park.

The sense of camaraderie and unity among the participants was palpable, as they described the camp as forming a new family. This spirit of togetherness was best encapsulated during a bayside group meeting at Hampton University, solidifying the bonds they had formed over the week.

Both camps were resounding successes, providing valuable educational experiences and fostering personal growth among the students. Digital Brilliance Hour ignited a passion for technology in its young participants, while Saunders Science Scholars/ACTivate Futures equipped high schoolers with the tools and confidence needed for their academic journeys.

The dedication of the instructors and organizers, alongside the enthusiastic participation of the students, ensured that these camps were more than just summer activities—they were steppingstones towards bright futures. As GCCP looks forward to next summer’s programs, it is clear that the seeds of brilliance and academic excellence have been sown.

“Reflecting on this summer’s camps, it is heartening to see the profound impact of Digital Brilliance Hour and Saunders Science Scholars/ACTivate Futures on our students. These programs not only ignited a passion for STEEAM but also bestowed invaluable skills for college readiness,” emphasized Chante Jordan, Director of Gates County Community Partnership. “As we watched our students grow more confident and excited about their futures, it became evident that these were not just camps, but pivotal experiences that will shape their paths for years to come.”